Three Independence Party MPs have put forth a bill to abolish women’s right to so-called “housewife holiday funds” in Iceland, Fréttablaðið reports. According to Vilhjálmur Arnason, the bill’s proposer, the funds breach equal rights law. One fund committee member argues there are still many women who depend on the funds to be able to take time off.
Regulation established to ensure housewives could take holidays
Iceland established regulations on housewife holiday funds over 60 years ago with the goal of ensuring that women who worked in the home had the ability to take holidays. As per the regulations, Iceland’s municipalities are required to pay into holiday funds that are then used to subsidise trips for housewives, which are organised by holiday committees.
Some municipalities have protested these regulations in recent years, with the municipality of Garðabær entering into a legal dispute with its holiday fund committee. In 2012, a man who wanted to join a housewife holiday fund trip to Slovenia took the holiday committee before the Equality Complaints Committee but lost his case.
Gender pay gap led women to stay home
Hildur Helga Gísladóttir, who is on the holiday committee for the municipality of Hafnarfjörður says the proposal to abolish the housewife holiday funds is premature. “These women are still alive and are using these holidays,” she stated. “These are women who had to be home half of the day as a result of government decisionmaking.”
What Hildur is referring to is that during the 20th century, Iceland’s government did not build and staff schools fast enough to meet demand, and children were only in school for half days rather than full days. Because women often earned less than men, many ended up staying home or working only part-time outside the home in order to care for children. This means they did not have the same pension and holiday rights as people who were in full-time employment outside the home. Some schools in Iceland did not offer full-day programming for children until around the turn of the century. Hildur points out that the ongoing chronic shortage of preschool spots has a similar impact on women.
Hafnarfjörður receives around 100 applications for the trips that its holiday committee organises and the women who apply are mostly born between 1930 and 1960, according to Hildur. Many of them are widows or are caretakers of spouses who are ill. “The Housewife Holiday Fund gives them the opportunity to travel cheaply. The subsidies made a difference for these women. This is maybe the only vacation they get.”
Supports some residents but not all
Vilhjálmur Arnason, the MP who proposed the bill, called it “the next logical step in the development of [Icelandic] society.” According to Vilhjálmur, many of the women who are homemakers today have the right to a paid holiday through other means. He believes the issue centres on the self-determination of municipalities, who currently do not have a choice on whether they pay into such funds or not. “They have no choice in the matter, they subsidise a part of their residents, but not all of them.”