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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

October 24th in Iceland is the Real Women’s Day

For almost 50 years, the women of Iceland have been fighting to fix the gender-wage gap that exists in their nation. Here is how they have done it, what they have accomplished, and what this represents to the entire world.
A large group of women gather in Reykjavik on October 24th, 2005, to protest against the gender wage gap in Iceland. While they marched, they chanted a slogan, “Women, let’s be loud!” to emphasize how their voices on the issue had been silenced for decades. (Photo Credit: Johannes Jansson/norden.org, CC BY 2.5 DK , via Wikimedia Commons)

You’re in Reykjavík, walking along the streets of the beautiful capital city of Iceland. There are mountains to your left and family businesses to your right. You hear the sounds of small talk and children’s laughter among the small yet boisterous community of the town. Your day has been filled with knitted sweaters, lava stones of Iceland’s very own volcanoes, and Icelandic skyr. 

Suddenly, the calm city is overtaken by a wave of commotion. 

It’s October, it’s 2:38 pm, and women are going on strike.

With Northern lights, the Blue Lagoon, and possibly the best pitstop for yogurt, Iceland is the dream vacation destination for many. In the past decade, the natural wonders of Iceland have drawn millions of tourists from all over the world to the Nordic Island country, visiting to experience the beauty of the one-of-a-kind hot springs, geysers, and volcanoes. 

Amidst all of the pretty sights of the nation lies yet another intriguing and unique feature: its government. 

Iceland’s parliamentary republic is one of the world’s most functional governments, earning that title for its consistency  and stability since 1944. The country has not participated in a single war throughout its existence and its government has limited Iceland’s trade and communication with outside nations, maintaining very close and reliable ties with only the United States. 

Not only do these conditions grant feelings of security to the 375,000 Icelandic people, but the government’s systematic determination to acknowledge the public’s wishes and include them in making important decisions has been yet another strong drive of communal peace. 

Despite these conditions, Iceland, like every other country, has its issues. Indeed the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon can only mask the country’s dilemmas for so long. As one looks past these wonders and into the workplaces of the nation, they can find a long-standing injustice towards women. 

Equality has been built into Icelandic culture since the formation of the Constitution of the Republic of Iceland, which was built on the idea that all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, opinions, and status (amongst other things), are deserving of equal rights. The constitution itself was constructed under these very principles, having been guided by an assembly of 950 citizens drawn at random from the national registry. 

It specifically states in the Constitution of the Republic of Iceland that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights in all respects.” This is odd considering Icelandic male workers earn approximately 21% more than their female colleagues. 

Despite the wage gap steadily decreasing over the past few years, it remains a prevalent issue in Iceland that women continue to fight today, especially in certain fields. In fact, the greatest disparity in salary between men and women exists in Financial and Insurance economic activities, which stood at 29.7% in 2021. 

The women of Iceland have refused to remain silent about this injustice. For the past 50 years, there have been greater  numbers of organized strikes led by women protesting against the gender pay gap. The most notable of these movements have occurred on the day that now represents the women’s movement for equality, October 24th. 

October 24, 1975

The feminist movement of Iceland, officially known as Redstocking (Rauðsokkahreyfingin), made its first public appearance in 1970 to display people’s desire for gender equality. During their demonstration, the idea of an organized women’s strike against the gender-wage gap was born. Within the next five years, the Redstocking women rallied thousands of women in support of the initiative for women’s rights in Iceland. Together with many other feminist organizations, the Redstocking women successfully inspired half a century’s worth of protests and strikes for closing the gender-pay gap. 

October 24th, 1975, is a day cherished by the women of Iceland. It was on that day that they took their first significant stand against the inequalities they faced and proved to the country that they would not go unnoticed. This strike signified the beginning of the nation’s fight for gender equality and is the reason why most strikes since then have occurred on October 24th, now referred to as “Women’s Day Off.”

During the protest, 25,000 women in Reykjavík left their jobs, both as underpaid workers and as overworked mothers, at 2:05 pm (the time at which they stopped being paid as much as men), and stayed that way for 24 hours. They didn’t cook, look after children, work, or participate in any of the “jobs” that society had assigned them. With the absence of women workers, many businesses (such as banks and factories) and schools had to shut down, forcing fathers to take care of their children and bring them along to work for the day. Because of this aspect of the strike, October 24th, 1975, is also referred to by some as “the Long Friday.” 

Despite how many men in Iceland had initially ridiculed the idea of a women’s strike, the impact of that random Friday was undeniable. In a country previously admired for its near perfect equality, this sudden political and social turmoil made headlines all over the world. Just the next day, it was dubbed 100% effective by the New York Times, a statement that was later proven by the events that took place in Iceland in the years that followed.

One year after the event, in 1976, Iceland’s parliament passed a law guaranteeing equal rights to men and women. 

Five years after the event, in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, won Iceland’s presidency and specifically thanked the women of the 1975 strike for paving the way for women’s emancipation in the country. Not only was this event monumental to Icelandic women, who finally felt represented and acknowledged, but Finnbogadottir has since been admired around the world as the first democratically-elected female president. Not only that, but she was re-elected three times in the country (16 years of presidency in total), having officially retired only a couple of decades ago in 1996. To this day, she is the longest-serving female Head of State in history. 

Overall, the 1975 strike was a powerful kickstart to decades worth of women fighting against gender inequality in Iceland; the strike successfully asserted that women had a more valuable position in society, both as mothers and as workers, than they were credited for. 

October 24th, 2005

One successful strike was not enough to completely terminate these injustices in Iceland. After the first one in 1975, strikes became a tradition to Icelandic women. 

Every few years on the anniversary of the first “Women’s Day Off,” the women of Iceland participate in an organized strike to honor it. Today, this tradition shows no sign of stopping. 

However, there is more depth to these strikes than it may appear. It is not just a matter of celebrating a movement and appreciating what was accomplished in the past – it’s about continuing what the powerful women of 1975 had the bravery and courage to begin. So, since that historical day, new generations of Icelandic women have adopted that bravery and started a new wave of striking (mostly in Reykjavik) that emphasized a lack of change over a lack of equality to begin with. They also began protesting more than just the gender-wage gap, with many women taking the opportunity of such a large movement to protest sexual violence and harassment. 

This wave began with the protest of October 24th, 2005, when tens of thousands of women left their jobs at 2:08 pm, around three hours before most businesses permitted, to represent the comically insignificant difference that had been made in the 30 years since 1975. 

That realization enraged many women in the country, motivating them to begin striking more frequently. 

Two Icelandic women who participated in the ‘Women’s Day Off’ march in Reykjavík are surrounded by signs. The one at right states in Icelandic, “Who runs the media? Not women..” These women are smiling and happy as they unite as a whole to fight for equality, along with thousands of other women at the march. (Photo credit: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org, CC BY 2.5 DK <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/dk/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons)

October 24th, 2010 

As time passed, the tradition of honoring the 1975 strike every decade evolved. Women realized that what they were doing was not enough and that they needed to display their frustration more frequently. Thus, a strike took place in 2010, five years earlier than “tradition” granted. 

October 24th, 2010, was not unique in nature. The strike was very similar to the one of 2005 in that women used the same method to protest, leaving work at 2:25 pm to again symbolize the lack of substantial change being made for the gender pay gap. 

This strike particularly intended to keep the spark alive in the movement and push Icelandic society to not think of “Women’s Day Off” as a holiday, but for the real and active movement that it was. 

October 24th, 2016

Maintaining the women’s movement meant the next significant strike against the gender pay gap occurred only six years after the previous one, again “violating” the tradition and the expectations of men. 

The same conditions were present for the strike of 2016 than they were for 2005, with women leaving work earlier than instructed once more, only this time at 2:38 p.m. 

This strike in particular was important because it was the first time that women left work closer to 3 p.m. than to 2 p.m., proving that progress was indeed being made. This fact motivated even more individuals to participate in the next strike in 2018 (when women earned 74% of the average man’s salary). Many of these individuals were women who took part in the strike of 1975 and were reinspired by the recent changes. 

The strikes of the 2000’s were significant in their own way. While they did not meet the magnitude of the 1975 protest, they showed how frustration towards the gender wage gap and other injustices towards women was unwavering and that the women of Iceland would not back down. The sheer determination of women to continue to go against their government and male counterparts demonstrates their strength, courage, and willingness to fight for their rights. 

October 24th, 2023 

The most recent strike is the one on October 24th, 2023. Like its predecessor events, this protest took place on “Women’s Day Off” to symbolize the continuing effort of women to achieve gender equality since 1975. Akin to the strikes of more recent years, this protest also fought against gender-based violence and other inequalities towards women. 

Last year’s strike was the greatest since 1975 with 100,000 women estimated to have participated (both inside and outside of Reykjavik). Unlike the previous strikes, women chose not to attend work or care for their home/mother duties for the entirety of the day rather than simply leave early. 

Yet another aspect of this particular strike that made it so impactful was Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, publicly announcing that she would participate by not holding any cabinet meetings. She also stated that she hoped to achieve gender equality in Iceland by 2030. This act alone demonstrated the power of the movement and what it has come to represent to Iceland as an entire country.

Today, conditions for women in Iceland are much better than what they were in 1975. While women earned around 40% less than their male coworkers 50 years ago, the gender pay gap has since been reduced to around 10%. This makes Iceland one of the only countries in the entire world where women’s salaries are almost equal to men’s. 

These strikes have not only influenced change in Iceland, but they have also inspired more women’s movements to occur in other countries in Europe. For instance, the 2016 “Black Monday” in Poland was modeled after the 1975 strike. 

It is important to note that the women’s movement in Iceland occurred in a country with one of the most functional governments of our time. Here is a nation that the world has admired for decades for its ability to enact change in a systemically peaceful and non-violent manner. 

As these strikes are analyzed and admired, it is important to keep in mind that they, and their effects, are unique. Women protesting for their freedom and receiving a response is unique. A government willing to evaluate laws purely because their people desire it is unique. Change at the country-wide level, especially that which is made for a disadvantaged group, is unique.

Icelandic women are not the only women who fight for their rights; they are just some of the only ones who are heard. The women of Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and many other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have been denied some of the most basic human rights for decades. Every single day, these women struggle to attain even half of the privileges that many of the men in their nations not only have, but abuse. 

However, things may be looking up for women in these regions. Since September 16th, 2022, the Mahsa Amini protests led by some of the brave women of Iran have been slowly growing into a movement for gender equality of their own, a parallel to what occurred in Reykjavik. For the past year and a half, these women have been deliberately going against Sharia law by removing their hijabs in public, participating in marches, and chanting anti-government slogans. Although these actions are met with significant resistance and are thus in many ways very different from what occurred in Reykjavik, it is still beautiful to see a continuation of women fighting for their rights and these powerful protests spreading all over the world. 

Such events generate hope that one day, we may live in a world where women are always valued and respected. While it was only the beginning of what’s likely to be centuries worth of protesting, we may thank the women of Iceland for setting a powerful precedent for women across the continents to feel inspired and empowered by. 

Indeed the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon can only mask the country’s dilemmas for so long. As one looks past these wonders and into the workplaces of the nation, they can find a long-standing injustice towards women. 

About the Contributor
Abigael Sidi, Staff Reporter
Abigael Sidi is a Staff Reporter for ‘The Science Survey.' She has loved writing for years and has joined every newspaper she could since elementary school. She’s always loved journalism for its investigative angle that digs deep into what may appear to be an obscure and unknown story. She has always appreciated the devotion of journalists to their topics and their determination to provide not only a compelling and enjoyable piece but also an informative one that successfully educates readers. She firmly believes in the importance of journalism and keeping it alive. She also values photojournalism for the visuals that it provides to readers; Abby thinks that giving readers an optical perspective of a story always helps draw them in and retain the information they read. Outside of school, she loves to read mystery, thriller, and romance novels, as well as listen to music. In fact, she will frequently do both at the same time. She also loves to travel to new places with her family and discover new food dishes as she goes. Her journalistic experiences have led Abby to have high respect for all journalism and journalists, and she hopes to continue it in some capacity in the future. Even though she hopes to pursue a career in politics, she recognizes the advantages that journalistic skills will provide for her and will always have a love for the art. She is confident that she will look to see the newest articles on The New York Times every morning for years to come.