On the 24th of October, thousands of women and non-binary people went on strike to draw attention to gender based violence and the gender pay gap. The strike was held 48 years after the country’s historic 1975 ‘Women’s day off’, which has been credited with paralysing the country and opening the eyes of many men to the value of women’s labour.
The 2023 strike, organised by trade unions, called on women and nonbinary people to refuse work, both paid and unpaid. Thousands of women gathered in the city centre to observe the strike. Consequently, public transport was delayed, hospitals only offered emergency services, only one bank branch was open on the whole island, and media broadcasters reduced their coverage. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir joined the strike, saying she wanted to show solidarity with Icelandic Women.
During the 1975 strike, 90 percent of women participated and the country was paralysed. The closing of schools and nurseries meant that many men had to take their children to work. Those who lived through the strike remember hearing children’s voices in the background of radio programmes. The strike laid the foundation for Iceland to become one of the most gender-equal countries in the world.
The strike laid the foundation for Iceland to become one of the most gender-equal countries the world.
Organisers say that the main demand of the 2023 strike was the need for women’s work to be valued. Protesters in the capital also called for an end to gender based violence. Despite the progress made over the past 48 years, there is still a significant gender pay gap, and 40 percent of women have experienced gender based or sexual violence. Freyja Steingrímsdóttir, one of the strike organisers, described how Iceland still has a long way to go to live up to its reputation as a gender-equal country: “We’re talked about, Iceland is talked about, like it’s an equality paradise, but an equality paradise should not have a 21% wage gap and 40% of women experiencing gender-based or sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s not what women around the world are striving for.”
Despite the progress made over the past 48 years, there is still a significant gender pay gap, and 40 percent of women have experienced gender based or sexual violence.
From the match girls’ strike in 19th century England to the 2016 Polish strike against the government’s abortion ban, women’s strikes have succeeded in showing the economic and social capital that women hold. Despite this, studies show that women are still responsible for the bulk of household chores even when working full time. This inequality in unpaid labour was exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdowns. The 2023 strike has been effective in both promoting gender equality in Iceland and illustrating the value of women’s work that often goes unappreciated and unacknowledged, showing that women have the power to literally bring a whole country to a standstill when they are united.