Women’s Day Off

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And now for something totally left field lol: on this day in 1975, in a remarkable display of solidarity and determination, Iceland’s women went on strike for equal rights. They refused to go to their jobs, do housework, or perform childcare, all to show the importance of women in their society. Incredibly, 90% of women in Iceland participated in the strike. Of those, 25,000 women — almost 12% of Iceland’s population at the time — took to the streets of Reykjavik in a demonstration while other protests were held in towns across the country. The historic strike was called Women’s Day Off and it’s gone down in Icelandic history as the beginning of a dramatic change in the status of women — and the first step toward Iceland becoming “the world’s most feminist country.”

Although the right of Icelandic women to vote was recognized in 1915, by 1975, there were still only three sitting female Members of Parliament, less than 5%. Across the country, women faced discrimination at work, including lower pay and fewer job opportunities. The progress being made in other Nordic countries, where women held 16 to 23% of parliamentary seats and had more recourse against discrimination, was frustrating women’s right activists in Iceland. A women’s group called the Red Stockings was the first to propose a strike, but it was initially considered too confrontational by many. After the event was renamed the Women’s Day Off and framed in such a way as to show the many ways Iceland’s women contributed to the country, it secured near universal support.

When the day of the protest came, many companies were forced to close for the day; schools and daycares kept their doors shut. Fathers ended up taking their children to work and easy to prepare foods like sausages were sold out in many grocery stores. Meanwhile, women took to the streets to listen to speeches and discuss how they could improve their nation. The majority of men were supportive of the effort: Styrmir Gunnarsson, who was the co-editor of the conservative paper Morgunbladid at the time, said, “I do not think that I have ever supported a strike but I did not see this action as a strike. It was a demand for equal rights… it was a positive event.” He added that “Probably most people underestimated this day’s impact at that time — later both men and women began to realize that it was a watershed.”

The impact of the changes that this show of power by women helped foster are obvious in Iceland today — women now hold 41% of the seats in parliament and the country has been ranked number one in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for seven years in a row. For her part, Finnbogadóttir, who served as Iceland’s president for 16 years, will always look back with fondness on that historic day when women stood together: “There was a tremendous power in it all and a great feeling of solidarity and strength among all those women standing on the square in the sunshine.”

To read more about Iceland’s Women’s Day Off on the BBC, visit http://bbc.in/1RrO571

 

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