From Iceland — Today Is Women's Rights Day In Iceland

Today Is Women’s Rights Day In Iceland

Published June 19, 2020

Photo by
The Archives of the Reykjavík Museum of Photography

Today, there are at least two causes for celebration.

In the United States, June 19th is also known as Juneteenth, the oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in that country. This day is chosen because on this day in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with the announcement that slavery was over—two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, which became law on January 1st of 1863. While the 13th Amendment does contain a loophole that effectively makes exceptions to the constitutional abolition of slavery, Juneteenth has grown into a celebration of Black liberation on many fronts, and the promise of a better future.

In Iceland, June 19th also happens to be Women’s Rights Day. On this day in 1915, King Christian X of Denmark submitted a change to Iceland’s constitution granting the right to vote to women aged 40 or older. Iceland’s Parliament codified this into law the following year, on the same day. The 40-year age restriction would not be lifted until 1920.

This was a fortuitous year to ratify this law, as it happened to be a parliamentary election year. However, it was not until July 8th of 1922 that the first woman, Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, was elected to Iceland’s Parliament. She would take her seat in the legislature the following February. You can see a statue in honour of Ingibjörg in front of Iceland’s Parliament, which was unveiled on this day in 2015.

Although it is by sheer coincidence that Juneteenth and the celebration of suffrage for (most) Icelandic women is held on the same day, noted Icelandic feminist Sóley Tómasdóttir writes in a column published today that one connecting thread between the two holidays is “white men giving up a fraction of their privileges in these two countries”.

As such, she encourages “everybody, although especially white men, to reflect upon and familiarise themselves with the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. Listen, learn and try to understand how we can use our privileges and our social positions to build a more just society where we can all be safe, where we all enjoy our inalienable rights and where we all have the opportunity to participate on our own terms. This is how we can honour the contributions of our foremothers and forefathers who paved the way for the rights we celebrate today.”

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