Women around the country took part in the annual National Women’s Day celebration on June 19. The event marks the day when women in Iceland were granted the right to vote in 1915.
Each year the Feminist Association of Iceland, Femínistinn, presents the Pink Stone award to an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the area of women’s rights. This year’s winner was a group of nine male parliamentarians from the Northwest jurisdiction in Iceland.
“They won the award because no woman got into parliament in that area – it’s an encouragement award to remind them to work towards equality issues,” said Katrin Anna Gudmundsdóttir from Femínistinn.
In Reykjavík, women dressed in various items of pink clothing gathered at Kvennaskólinn, a former women’s school, to attend a history walk. Kristín Ástgeirsdóttir, a historian and a former member of parliament, guided the 70 to 100 mainly older women who attended the walk past sites of importance in the women’s rights movement.
“It’s important for us to safeguard the history of women […] even though it’s not in the history books,” Elisabet Ronaldsdóttir, who attended the event, said.
“This day is important because it was the beginning of something good. Of course, a lot still needs to be done,” female singer/songwriter Lay Low agreed.
Political Scientist Einar Már Þorðarsson, who was among the handful of males in the crowd, said that it was important to show his support.
“It reminds us that even though women got the right to vote in 1915, still after the election in 2007 there are only 34 percent of women in parliament. So, the fight keeps going and [this day] reminds us to fight for women’s rights,” he said.
The walk ended at Hallveigarstaðir where Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, gave a speech. Gísladóttir argued that the independence of women was more difficult to attain than the independence of the nation. She went on to say that women needed to be granted more power in society.
But Steinunn GyðuogGuðjónsdóttir (her last name consists of both her mother and father’s first names, rather than just her father’s as is traditional in Icelandic patronymics) from Femínistinn pointed out that although there are many areas of women’s rights that need to be improved, National Women’s Day is about looking at gender equality from a positive stance.
“It’s more about celebrating the things that women have achieved instead of campaigning or marching or demonstrating,” she said.
Iceland has led the way in several areas of women’s rights and achievement. For example, in 1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first elected female president in the world. And according to Femínistinn, Iceland has the world’s highest rate of female participation in the job market. But as Statistics Iceland (2005) confirms, women only earn 72.75 percent of what men earn for the same amount of hours worked.
“It is important for Iceland to be a role model and this is an extremely important issue to be a role model in. I want to see the government doing more,” Ronaldsdóttir commented.
“There are many battles [to be won] yet. The salary gap for example. Women are in second place and that doesn’t make any sense,” Guðbjörg Vilhjámsdóttir agreed.
But despite these seemingly pressing issues, the turnout to Tuesday’s celebration was poor compared to the massive attendance to women’s rights events in past years. In 2005, a Women’s Day Off was held to mark the 30-year anniversary of an event in which 25,000 women in Iceland walked out of their workplaces and took the day off. In 2005, women were earning just over 64 percent (this number does not take into consideration the difference in hours that men and women work) of the total of what men were earning. In protest, 60,000 women around the country stopped work at 2.08 pm – 64 percent of a normal 9 to 5 working day. The idea was to show the value of women’s contribution to the Icelandic economy.