From Iceland's total population of 380,000, around 100,000 women and non-binary people – including the prime minister, joined the demonstrations
Iceland is well regarded as a progressive place. The World Economic Forum, which measures key factors such as pay, education and healthcare, has ranked the Nordic country as the world's most gender-equal country 14 years in a row. But being ranked the most equal in the world doesn't equate as complete equality. And this week, the women and non-binary people of Icelend – joined by prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir – called a 'kvennafri' ( meaning 'women's day off') to push their nation further and call for more change.
Here is everything you need to know about this week's strike, and the why the world should be paying attention.
It was all about ending the gender pay gap and gender-based violence
The women in Iceland hold some of the country's top jobs, but the lowest-paying employment – such as cleaning and child care – is still predominantly done by women and systemic wage discrimination remains at play. In addition, Iceland is not immune to gender-based violence.
Iceland is often viewed as some sort of equality paradise. If we’re going to live up to that name, we need to move forward and really be the best we can be – and we’re not stopping until full gender equality is reached.
Freyja Steingrímsdóttir, a spokeswoman for the Icelandic Federation of Public Workers
“Iceland is often viewed as some sort of equality paradise,” Freyja Steingrímsdóttir, a spokeswoman for the Icelandic Federation of Public Workers, the country’s largest federation of public worker unions, said to The New York Times. “If we’re going to live up to that name, we need to move forward and really be the best we can be – and we’re not stopping until full gender equality is reached.”
The organisers also wanted to draw attention to the plight of immigrant women whose contribution to Icelandic society is “rarely acknowledged or reflected in the wages they receive.”
Woman and non-binary people refused to work for a whole day
The 'kvennafri' ran from midnight to midnight on Tuesday, with fields in which women form the majority of workers – mainly healthcare and education – especially affected. News broadcasts reporting on the strike and shutdowns were managed by all-male teams, while buses and trains experienced delays, flights were cancelled, banks closed and hotel rooms remained uncleaned – all for a greater equality cause.
"I will not work this day, as I expect all the women [in cabinet] will do as well," prime minister Jakobsdóttirr said ahead of the protest.
It was Iceland's largest effort to protest inequality in almost five decades
Tuesday’s walkout, running from midnight to midnight, was the first full-day strike since October 1975, when 90% of women – making up crowds of around 25,000 – refused to work and rallied in the capital to protest workplace discrimination in the workplace. However, it marked the seventh protest for gender equality in recent decades.
“Today we repeat the event of the first full day women’s strike since 1975, marking the day when 90% of Icelandic women took the day off from both work and domestic duties, leading to pivotal change including the world’s first female elected president of a country," Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweed via X on Tuesday.
Demonstrations took place right across the country
The gatherings took place right across Iceland, but the heart of the activity was in Reykjavik where enormous crowds gathered on Arnarhóll, a hill next to the city centre. Much of the capital’s centre was closed to traffic to permit the movements of the protest.
Further steps are needed
Jakobsdóttir’s government had previously, and unsuccessfully, committed to closing gender pay gap – which currently sits at 91.2% in Iceland – by 2022. While the goalposts have moved, Tuesday's 'kvennafri' held world's attention for all the right reasons. Time will tell if the necessary changes will be made to close the gender pay gap and end gender-based violence. But one thing's for sure – the actions in Iceland continue to ripple across the world, and are helping to pave the way towards equality for woman and non-binary people everywhere.