Icelandic suffragettes reaped the fruits of their labour in 1915, one hundred years ago, when women over the age of 40 were given the right to vote (followed by all adult women five years later). Celebrating this momentous anniversary, the Reykjavík City council’s Forsætisnefnd (“Presidential Committee”) will be promoting a hundred events this year that highlight the work of women or are connected to women’s issues. We met with Sóley Tómasdóttir at her City Hall office to find out what Reykjavík has planned to mark the occasion.
Sóley sits on the City Council on behalf of the Left-Green Party, and is an outspoken feminist. She’s humble about her role in the committee, and states that they are all working hard to put together the schedule for the upcoming months. “My role there is facilitating that as many organisations and people as possible have the opportunity to host events and work with the city and partake in the celebrations.”
She says the planned events vary in size, scope and subject, with some being organised by the grassroots feminist movement, and others by more civic-minded groups. “There are even events being planned by an organisation of women in the fisheries sector, one I didn’t even know existed,” she says.
Lending a helping feminist hand
While the committee doesn’t have much of a budget, what they have—in spades—Sóley tells me, are resources. “There was for example a self-defence course planned for women which they were struggling to find a venue for,” she says, “and we were able to find a gymnasium that suited their needs. We have a lot of people working for the city that have very specific skillsets, who can help organisers with all sorts of tasks.”
Other planned events include a rock camp for girls aged thirteen to sixteen, art exhibitions, rallies, and panel discussions. “One event that we’re particularly excited about is the International Women’s Day, at Iðnó, which is happening this Sunday, March 8,” Sóley says. “It’s organised by the culture and peace organisation MFÍK (which is run entirely by women), and features an interesting presentation.”
Sóley says the event will focus on feminism and fascism, presenting them as opposing forces and highlighting how a greater emphasis on feminism can combat the wave of fascism that’s been washing over Europe in the last few years. “It’s a very exciting idea, and very topical in the current discussion of democracy in Iceland.”
Speaking of democracy, Sóley says the city council has approved a resolution to denominate March 31 as a day that the city council seats will be filled exclusively by women. “On that day we’ll pass motions that have to do with women’s rights and welfare matters,” she says. One topic in particular has been on Sóley’s mind: revenge porn. “I don’t believe there is a more potent weapon for the patriarchy to keep women in place than revenge porn,” she says. “It has the potential to destroy girls’ lives and limit their ability to partake in political life in the future.”
Events and female empowerment
These one hundred, independently organised events are all meant to display how celebrating things in a feminist manner is, simply put, fun. Sóley is confident that after witnessing so many events with feminist undertones over the course of a year, organisers will see a benefit in continuing that trend.
The committee will promote numerous events through mainstay festivals and events like RIFF, Reykjavík Pride and the National Day in Iceland, as well as on June 19, which is Women’s Rights Day in Iceland, and October 24, which is the day that women in Iceland go on strike to protest the gender-based wage gap (this has been an annual occurrence for the past 40 years). Until then, here are a few select events in the coming month.
“Feminism Against Fascism,” Iðnó, March 8 at 15:00
The culture and peace organisation MFÍK gives a presentation on how feminism is useful in the fight against fascism. This is followed by performance by folk band Hljómsveitin Eva and a panel discussion lead by Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir and Gyða Margrét Pétursdóttir, featuring Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Drífa Snædal and Margrét Steinarsdóttir. The event is accessible and there is no admission fee.
‘Kynlegar Tölur’ pamphlet published, March 8
The pamphlet, printed and distributed by the city of Reykjavík, features an assortment of graphs, charts and statistics highlighting some gender-based differences in society. Amongst these are the gender distribution of top managers of financial institutions and other leadership positions; the number of yearly traffic accidents and what kind, by gender; the number of vasectomies versus tubal ligations; emigration and immigration by gender; media representation by gender; and so on.
Unveiling of monument for author Ásta Sigurðardóttir, April 1
The late author Ásta Sigurðardóttir will be honoured with a plaque in her name, with descriptions in Icelandic and English. Ásta is known for, amongst other things, writing one of the first modernist short stories, “Í hvaða vagni?”, back in 1953.
‘The Water Carrier -Mountain+Woman’ by Ásmundur Sveinsson, Reykjavík Art Museum: Ásmundarsafn, runs until April 26
The late sculptor whom the museum is named after, Ásmundur Sveinsson, made a piece called “The Water Carrier” in 1937. At the time, although water carriers were some of the worst paid workers of the city, the profession enforced an equal pay policy. In celebration of the women’s suffrage centennial, Ásmundur’s piece, along with six others, will be put on display.
You can see Reykjavík city’s event calendar here. You might also be interested in the following article:
Sexting, revenge porn and Iceland’s youth
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