“Beauty of Freedom:” Reykjavík Pride Festival Begins

Reykjavík’s annual Pride Festival officially kicks off today with a rainbow-painting event on Bankastræti in the city centre. The festival lasts until Sunday, August 7 and its events include karaoke nights, lectures, drag storytime, and of course the traditional Pride Parade on Saturday, August 6. According to the Director of the National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), educating the public is a crucial step in tackling the backlash that has occurred in the fight for equal rights.

Freedom to celebrate

The theme of this year’s festival is “Beauty of Freedom,” a phrase borrowed from Iceland’s 2022 Eurovision entry Með hækkandi sól. “After the long isolation of the last years, we now have the freedom to gather together and unite once more in solidarity. Finally we have the freedom to celebrate our victories and stand together in the fight for human rights, awareness and equality,” a post on the Reykjavík Pride website states.

While the freedom of LGBTQI+ people has “expanded over the course of the last years and decades,” the post states, “we still haven’t reached the highest degree of true freedom. Some groups within the queer community are still struggling and every day, their freedom and beauty is questioned, both in Iceland and abroad.”

Backlash in LGBTQIA+ rights movement

Repeated acts of vandalism to a rainbow painted outside a Reykjavík church, hateful anonymous letters, and even comments from authorities about LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are just a few examples of prejudice towards the queer community that have appeared in Icelandic media in recent weeks. Daníel Arnarsson, director of the National Queer Association of Iceland says prejudice against the LGBTQIA+ community has increased and become more commonplace.

“When we allow prejudice to fester, we are also opening the door for that prejudice to spread to other minority groups,” Daníel told RÚV, emphasising that educating the public about the reality faced by queer people is key in fighting what he called a backlash in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement.

All are welcome to take part in the rainbow painting at noon today at the corner of Bankastræti and Ingólfssstræti. The full festival programme is available on the Reykjavík Pride website.

Prejudice Just Below the Surface in Iceland, Says Prime Minister

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is putting together a task force that will propose ways to tackle hate speech in Icelandic society, RÚV reports. Katrín stated she was appalled by recent reports of bullying faced by LGBT+ youth in the country. The Prime Minister says that while Icelandic legislation concerning equality has advanced in recent years, societal views can take time to catch up.

A group of LGBT+ youth in the Reykjavík capital area has reported facing harassment on a daily basis, in part due to the influence of TikTok trends that popularise barking at queer people. The persecution has led many of the teens to avoid leaving the house, while their parents fear the effects the harassment might have on their children. One of the group’s friends, who also faced such harassment, committed suicide last year.

Asked whether she was surprised that such prejudice against queer youth was coming from other young people, Katrín responded: “I think it just shows us that prejudice is just below the surface, that’s just how it is.”

Read More: Calls on Icelandic Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

The Prime Minister’s Office oversees equality affairs, such as legislation on equal status and equal rights regardless of gender and sexual orientation. The task force Katrín is putting together will include representatives from the labour market, justice system, schools, and interest groups, in order to tackle hate speech in all areas of society.

Katrín says that while legislation such as the Gender Autonomy Act passed in 2019, has helped improve the status of LGBT+ people in Iceland, more needs to be done. “That’s one of the projects of this group on hate speech. It’s not just to look at the legislation but how we can uproot this uncivilised behaviour.”

Fathers Take Longer Parental Leave, Earlier

Bicycle

As a result of three recent significant changes to parental leave legislation, new fathers are taking longer parental leave, with an increase in fathers taking time early in their new child’s life. This, in addition to an increased number of birth from previous years, requires additional funding from the government to the Parental Leave Fund amounting to 940 million ISK, included in the government’s spending bill presented to Parliament this week.

More births and more fathers on leave

According to the bill, three factors lead to increased spending in the Parental Leave Fund. Firstly, a higher proportion of 2019 fathers used their parental leave in the latter part of the parental leave period than in earlier years. Secondly, more 2020 and 2021 fathers take their parental leave in the first three to six months after birth, as opposed to later in the period. Thirdly, 2021 is shaping up to be the year with the most births since 2010.

A win for equality

Director of the Parental Leave Fund Leó Þorleifsson told Fréttablaðið that the increase in expenditure was a positive sign. “I’m still not sure how high we can set our hopes for the effects of the new parental leave rules but there are indicators that it’s pretty successful,” Leó stated.

According to Leó, three significant changes in regulation have led to fathers taking more leave. The first one was in January 2019, when the maximum payment was increased to 600,000. The next was in 2020, when parental leave was extended to 10 months. Finally, last January, parental leave was again extended to 12 months, divided equally between the parents, although six weeks are transferrable. An earlier system allocated nine months parental leave, with three months for each parent and three divided between them. Before the changes, notably more women than men took most of the three shared months.

Leó stated that many men still choose to transfer the six weeks, but more and more fathers are choosing to take the four and a half months leave allotted to them. “They also seem to be taking their leave earlier than before, both in 2020 and 2021. This may be both because they have more leave they can take and because the discourse towards fathers taking parental leave has been very positive.” It used to be that most fathers would take 4-6 weeks just after the birth and take the rest of their leave later, but now, they take more leave during the first months of new parenthood.

Pandemic might play a part

This data suggests that fathers are increasingly taking leave and using their right to parental leave to the fullest. “This is a good step towards equality and very good for the children,” stated Leó. He notes that this early data should be taken with a grain of salt as the global pandemic might have some effect. “This can’t be ruled out and likely has some effect. But I think the largest part of the increase in fathers taking parental leave has to do with the increase in maximum payments and the increase in parental leave specifically allotted to each parent.”

The gap between leave and preschool remains

When asked what the next steps were, Leó stated that it’s essential that maximum payments continue to reflect wage development but notes that the next big step has to do with childcare. “The next big step that the system as a whole needs to focus on is how to bridge the gap between parental leave and preschools..”

Arion Bank to Ensure 80% of Staff Salaries During Parental Leave

Bicycle

Arion Bank has announced that it will guarantee employees up to 80% of their wages during parental leave. The bank promises to pay employees with salaries upwards of 600,000 ISK per month (€4,015 / $4,643) – which is the salary cap, before taxes, of the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund – an additional benefit so that they can take home close to 80% of their regular wages.

Encouraged to make full use of their parental leave

In a statement published on the bank’s website on Wednesday, Arion Bank declared that it would henceforth guarantee employees up to 80% of their wages during parental leave. The benefit will be granted in addition to payments from the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund and other compensation negotiated through collective-wage agreements. The statement further encouraged employees to make full use of their right to parental leave.

The salaries of bank employees vary. As reported by Kjarninn, the monthly wages of individuals employed as consultants and brokers, including those working for Arion Bank, exceeded ISK 1.7 million (€11,377 / $13,158) last year. According to the bank’s new parental-compensation package, the average Arion broker would earn approximately ISK 1,360,000 (€9,103 / $10,528) during up to six months of parental leave, or ISK 760,000 (€5,087 / $5,882) more than the expected payment from the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund.

Employees with salaries of ISK 1 million (€6,693 / $7,740) a month receive an additional ISK 200,000 (€1,339 / $1,547) and employees earning ISK 800,000 (€5,355 / $6,192) receive an additional ISK 40,000 (€268 / $310).

Hope to ensure equality of wages in the future

The parental-leave package forms a part of Arion Bank’s endeavour toward gender equality. “The average wages of men, whether in Arion Bank or in society at large, exceed those of women,” the statement from the bank reads – “and fathers are less likely to use their parental leaves than mothers.”

“Guaranteeing employees 80% of their wages during parental leave, regardless of gender or position,” the statement continues, “makes it easier for them to take time off. In this way, this initiative aims to encourage more fathers to make use of their rights. In the future, this step may prove beneficial in ensuring equality of wages between men and women, on the one hand, and increasing the number of women in managerial positions and other positions, on the other hand. Today, women form 44% of the bank’s management.”

The statement ends with a quote from Director Benedikt Gíslason: “We hope to make the bank a more desirable place of employment in the eyes of young and talented people.”

Over 75% of Icelanders Believe Immigrants Have a Positive Impact

asylum seeker program Birta

A comprehensive study conducted in early 2018 found that over 75% of Icelanders believe immigrants have had a positive impact on Icelandic society, RÚV reports. The study was conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Akureyri in North Iceland. It covers topics such as immigrants’ status on the labour market, within the school system, and their political and social engagement in Iceland.

Results a Pleasant Surprise

While foreign citizens accounted for 2.6% of Iceland’s population in the year 2000, in 2020 that figure had risen to 13.5%. Titled “Inclusive Society? Adaptation of Immigrants in Iceland,” the University of Akureyri study aimed to reveal how immigrants were adapting to Icelandic society as well as how Icelandic society was adapting in return. Many of the results were a pleasant surprise for Hermína Gunnþórsdóttir and Markus Meckl, professorts at the University of Akureyri and the two editors of the study.

While over 75% of Icelanders reported they agree or strongly agree that immigrants have had a positive impact on society, while just 4% stated they disagree or strongly disagree. Two out of three Icelanders stated they had invited an immigrant to their home. “The attitude seems to be positive and in fact more positive than one would expect in many ways. Maybe this says something about Icelandic society. In any case, this came as a pleasant surprise,” Hermína stated.

Some Schools Lack Comprehensive Policy

While attitudes toward immigrants are generally positive, Icelandic society could do better in some areas when it comes to providing them services, particularly in the educational system. The study found that many municipalities had not formulated clear policies when it came to teaching immigrants and addressing their needs. Hermína pointed out that teachers in smaller communities may lack the training and knowledge needed to adapt their methods. “This is something that municipalities need to take as more of a holistic policy and look at what kind of society we want to build up.”

Nearly 60% of Immigrants Made Under ISK 400,000 Per Month

In 2018, the average monthly salary for full-time workers in Iceland was ISK 721,000. When looking at the distribution of total wages, the most common monthly wage was between ISK 550,000-600,000. According to the University of Akureyri study, nearly 60% of immigrants made ISK 400,000 per month, significantly below national averages. Though Iceland has a gender pay gap that affects all women, women of foreign origin are much worse off in terms of wages than women who are Icelandic, according to Hermína. “This needs to be looked at systematically because we do not want inequality to increase. We want equality and equal rights for everyone here. Not just those who were born and raised here.”

Language Education is Key to Participation

Unsurprisingly, the study found immigrants who had learned Icelandic were more active in society and politics. “For example they are more likely to vote and actually participate more in society. So it’s very important that we offer people a good education in Icelandic.” The study found, however, that immigrants were not satisfied with the Icelandic language courses available to them.

According to Hermína, an important step in achieving further equality is to increase the number of immigrants working within the school system as well as in positions of responsibility.

80% of Female MPs Have Experienced Psychological Violence

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

[vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1571412391572{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]80% percent of female Members of Parliament have experienced psychological violence according to a recent book from Dr. Haukur Arnþórsson. The study was conducted by asking females who work or have recently quit working in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. 33 women answered the questionnaire in May of this year, with 76% of them answering, Fréttablaðið reports.

24% of the female MP’s had experienced sexual violence, 24% physical violence, and 20.8% had experience economical violence. Economical violence is defined as when a woman is denied wages or a job position which they have a right to, or if their property is damaged.

Haukur’s research also revealed that women stay for a shorter time in the Icelandic Parliament, as well as revealing that 63.5% of MP’s are considered upper class.

Violence against MP’s more prevalent in Icelandic Parliament

The results from the survey conducted with the Icelandic female MP’s was compared to a 2018 survey conducted on gender-based violence by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, in collaboration with the Council of Europe. The survey questions European MP’s and revealed that 14.8% of MP’s had experienced physical violence, which a rate of 9% less than for female MP’s in Iceland. The rate is also higher for economic violence when the rate for Iceland is compared to Europe, with 11.8% in Europe and 20.8% in Iceland.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reykjavík Pride and NASDAQ Address “Gay Glass Ceiling” in Iceland

Gunnlaugur Bragi Björnsson, the President of Reykjavík Pride, rang the Icelandic Stock Exchange bell at 9.00am on Thursday morning to celebrate a new collaboration between the two organisations, Vísir reports. The aim of the partnership is to get a conversation going around the status of LGBTQIA people in the business world, as recent studies published in the US have shown, for instance, that gay men are less likely than straight men to become senior executives.

“The goal is to start a conversation, to start an informed conversation that will then lead to increased awareness about the status and rights of LGBTQIA people, [as well as] ways to improve the circumstances of LGBTQIA people and in so doing, improve the business world overall,” remarked Páll Harðarson, president of NASDAQ Iceland.

Although the issue has not really been taken up in Iceland thus far, but the so-called “gay glass ceiling” has already become a topic of discussion in places like the US and UK. “…[T]he situation is not what it should be,” said Páll.

“Studies in the US show that gay men are more likely to become middle managers than straight men, but they are, on the other hand, much less likely to become high-level executives,” said Gunnlaugur Bragi.

Amnesty International Calls on Iceland to Respect ‘Diverse Bodies’

A new report issued by Amnesty International uses case studies in Iceland to show how a lack of supportive legislation leads to people “born with variations of sex characteristics – who sometimes describe themselves as ‘intersex’” facing social stigma, discrimination, and potentially harmful surgical procedures.

The report calls particular attention to the Bill on Sexual and Gender Autonomy that is set to come before parliament at the end of February. Although Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has emphasized that this bill is part of her government’s commitment to being on the vanguard of LGBTQIA issues, Amnesty International asserts that it “…lacks essential protections for children. In particular, it includes no provisions to end ‘normalising’ non-emergency, invasive and irreversible surgeries on children born with variations of sex characteristics.”

Amnesty International estimates that there are roughly 6,000 people in Iceland “…with sex characteristics – genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes or reproductive organs – which vary from the established norms for ‘male’ and ‘female’”. The organization says that during its study of the country, it “found evidence that in Iceland, people who are born with variations of sex characteristics struggle to access healthcare that is appropriate and centres on their human rights, which in some cases can cause lasting harm.”

The organization also spoke to Kitty Anderson, the founder of Intersex Iceland, who echoed their observations, saying “[g]ood healthcare is so hard to get because we are seen as ‘disorders’ that need to be fixed…A lot of the health issues that arise are because of the treatment that we got as children. We wouldn’t have all these cases of osteopenia or osteoporosis if we hadn’t gone through gonadectomies as children and incompetent hormone therapy as teenagers.”

In closing, Amnesty International called on the Icelandic government to “…create a specialised, multidisciplinary team for the medical treatment of children and of adults with variations of sex characteristics” and to “…develop and implement a rights-based healthcare protocol for individuals with variations of sex characteristics to guarantee their bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination.”

Read Amnesty International’s full statement on this issue, “Iceland: Diverse bodies are not mistakes to be corrected,” in English, here.

Uproar Over Nude Paintings at Central Bank

Central Bank of Iceland

The Central Bank of Iceland’s recent decision to take down two paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal featuring nude women has caused an uproar. Vísir reports that the decision was spurred by complaints from employees, who considered the artwork and its placement inappropriate. Artists and art enthusiasts have criticised the decision as prudish, lamenting that the work has been placed in storage and out of view.

Puritanism and pornography

Though it is not clear exactly which two paintings have been removed from the Central Bank’s walls, one of them is believed to be the picture seen below:

https://twitter.com/gretarsigurds/status/1087019885492879360

The Federation of Icelandic Artists sent a written statement to the Central Bank, criticising the decision to take down the paintings and place them in storage. Erling Jóhannesson, the federation’s president, criticised what he called the bank’s “prudishness and puritanism.” Erling says the human body is a timeless subject of art which can represent many concepts, “but if you don’t have the judgement to look deeper, everything changes into pornography.”

Artist and research professor Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon agrees with Erling. “You may as well put half of art history into storage,” he remarked. “The human body, both male and female, has long been the subject of artists.”

Based on equality, not taste

Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson, an editor at the bank, stated the decision to take down the works was made after careful deliberation. “This debate has a long story behind it and has come up before.” Stefán added: “Taking into consideration the gender equality policy, anti-bullying policy, and harassment, the decision was made to respond to these suggestions.” The decision is not based on artistic judgement of the works, according to Stefán.

Stefán explained that one of the paintings was hung behind a superior’s desk. “Employees have expressed the opinion that women shouldn’t be required to discuss issues with male superiors with paintings of naked women in front of them.”

Paintings exhibited next month

Many have suggested the bank sell the paintings or donate them to the National Gallery so they can be enjoyed by the public. Stefán says both works will be exhibited on Reykjavík’s upcoming Museum Night. “The fact that the pictures are no longer locked up in certain offices creates the opportunity to show them to the public. The decision had been made to display these pictures at the Central Bank on Museum Night next February 8, and this debate has not changed that.”

Equality Matters Moved to Prime Minister’s Office

Equality matters will be moved to the Prime Minister’s as part of a restructuring of the ministries, RÚV reports. The change will take place when the matters of the Ministry of Welfare will be split up into the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Healthcare.

The goal of the changes is to have a clearer division of labour as well as giving a clearer political focus on the matters. The current government believes that the restructuring allows them to prioritize the matters of equality, social affairs, and healthcare. Matters of structure will also be transferred from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The ministries will now be ten in total, an increase from nine. The Minister of Social Affairs will become the Minister of Social and Children’s Affairs, which is intended to reflect the government’s emphasis on children’s and youth’s matters. It is estimated that the changes will take place around the turn of the year. The changes will be proposed to the Icelandic Parliament soon.