If you were surprised by my heading it’s because the American press has offered scant coverage of Iceland’s remarkable feminist achievements. This is a country with a long history of championing women’s rights. In 1850 Iceland was the first country to grant equality to women. Icelandic women won the right to vote in 1915—five years before the US.
In modern times, Iceland jumped on the Feminist bandwagon in 1975, and it’s been uphill for its female citizenry ever since.
Unfortunately we can’t say the same about the U.S. We had our share of notable feminist achievements in the ‘70’s–notably abortion rights, but they’re being rolled back almost daily. We never managed to pass the ERA (equal pay for equal rights); the number of women in elected office is growing at a snail’s pace; and most young women resist being called “feminists.”
Most of us are still reeling at the prospect of a President Trump: a man whose campaign was punctuated with sexist put downs of women and anti-abortionist rhetoric.
Now the feminist agenda in the US has a bigger uphill battle than ever! We have to rise above our despair to reinvigorate our commitment to women’s rights. Iceland has a lot to teach us.
Central to the success of Iceland’s advances for women is their masterful ways of organizing and mobilizing women.
Their 1975 strike for gender equality called on all women to strike: to stay home from work and to refuse to perform household duties. It worked. Within a year, the Gender Equality Council was formed, rapidly enacting the Gender Equality Act, which outlawed discrimination in schools and the workplace.
In 1980 Iceland elected its first female President, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who presided over four terms until 1996. During her tenure childcare became heavily subsidized. Every parent was entitled to three months paid time to care for their newborn.
Iceland’s female leadership stretched the boundaries even further when in 2009 Johanna Siguroardottir became Iceland’s first Prime Minister, and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state.
She ran on a platform to lead the country out of their 2008 recession; it resembled our 2008 economic crash in that big banks were the culprits. Under Sigurdardottir, Iceland did something the US never even attempted: they jailed bankers responsible for the crash!
Sigurdardottir took the position that a male-dominated business culture was at fault, and that female principles had to lead the way to restore the economy.
In short order women permeated former male industries, pledging to do away with “penis competition,” which prioritized short-term profits and lucrative bonuses without any regard for the consequences. Additionally a law was passed that forced companies to have a minimum of 40% women on their boards!
A current feminist star in Icelandic politics is Birgitta Jonsdottir, a 49 year-old poet and activist who calls herself a “poetician.”
She is the founder of Iceland’s newly formed Pirate Party, which had a respectful showing in last week’s elections. Jonsdottir describes her party as “being like Robin Hood when it comes to taking the power from the powerful and giving it to the people.”
Keep Iceland on you radar. They’re on a feminist roll. Who’s up for a US women’s trip to Iceland to study their model? My suitcase is ready and waiting!