Women, Life, Freedom: Candlelight March in Solidarity with Activists in Iran and Afghanistan

UN Women in Iceland hosted a candlelight march against gender-based violence on Friday night. RÚV reports that this is the first time the march has been held since the COVID-19 pandemic began and took place under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” echoing the rallying cry that has taken up by feminist activists and protestors in Iran and beyond.

The march began at Arnarhóll and ended at Bríetartorg, a small square in downtown Reykjavík that commemorates activist and suffragette Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir (1856 – 1940). Harpa concert hall was illuminated in orange during the event, as orange has come to symbolize a better, violence-free future for women and girls around the world.

First Lady Eliza Reid and Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

According to a Facebook post about the event, the candlelight march marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, “an international campaign that commences on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.” This year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign continues with its ongoing mission to end femicide, “the murder of women  because they are women.” Event organizers say that 81,000 women and girls were killed globally in 2020, around 47,000 or 58% of whom died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. This equates to a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.

“By taking part in UN Women Iceland’s Candlelight March,” concluded UN Women in Iceland, “we show solidarity with the brave women and girls of Afghanistan and Iran who are leading the fight against their countries’ regimes’ repressive treatment of women and girls, while being met with brutal and often lethal force.”

‘There’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to’

Zarah Mesbah speaks at the 2022 Candlelight March

Friday’s march was led by activist Zahra Mesbah, an Afghan woman who was born in Iran, Iranian Zoreh Aria, and UN Women in Iceland director Stella Samúelsdóttir. Individuals from both Afghanistan and Iran were invited to walk in front. In her speech, Zahra emphasized unity, saying: “The only thing that matters is that I am a person, and all people deserve freedom and to live with dignity.”

For her part, Zoreh urged attendees to show their support for the Iranian women who are risking their lives every time they protest. “In their minds, there’s only one way forward and there’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to,” she said. “They are fighting for freedom and dignity. We ask people to stand with peace, freedom, and the Iranian nation and to ask the government to take action.”

All photos taken by Heiðrún Fivelstad on behalf of UN Women in Iceland.

Nine Women Sue Icelandic State for Dropping Sexual Assault Cases

women sue Icelandic state in sexual assault cases

Nine women have sued the Icelandic state before the European Court of Human Rights for violating their right to a fair trial. The women are all survivors of rape, domestic violence, and/or sexual harassment who reported the crimes to the police, only for the cases to be dropped by prosecutors. They are backed by 13 women’s organisations in Iceland, which state that the weak position of women who are victims of violent crime in Iceland is a systemic issue.

“The vast majority of women’s reports of violence to the police never go to trial,” a press release on the initiative states. “Figures have for ex. shown that only 17% of reported rape cases go to trial, while the rest are either dropped by the prosecutor or the police stop the investigation. Only 13% ended with a conviction. The intention of sending the charges to the Court of Human Rights is to draw attention to a systemic problem and have the Icelandic state answer for it on the international stage as to why the position of women who are victims of violent crime in Iceland is as weak as evidence shows.”

Point to Shortcomings in Judicial System

The nine women ranged from 17-42 years of age when they reported the crimes and most were reported to Capital Area Police. A thorough examination of their cases by lawyer Sigrún Ingibjörg Gísladóttir “revealed various shortcomings in the investigation and handling of cases within the judicial system,” the press release states, including “serious shortcomings” in police investigations.

In general, police took far too long investigating the cases, giving defendants months to prepare for questioning and to co-ordinate their statements or even leading to cases becoming statute-barred due to the length of time it took to summon the accused for questioning. In some of the cases, police failed to summon key witnesses for questioning or ignored witness reports in support of the victims. They also failed to value evidence available in the cases, including physical injuries, property damage, and psychologists’ certificates.

“Is justice for 13% of women enough?”

The 13 women’s organisations, including women’s shelters, counselling centres, the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, and UN Women Iceland, held a joint press conference today to announce the initiative. The organisations also released a video last weekend featuring a visual explanation of how few sexual assault cases end with conviction in Iceland, asking: “Is justice for 13% of women enough?”

The 13 organisations also call for immediate changes to strengthen the position of women who are victims of violent crimes within the judicial system. These include involving them more directly in the criminal proceedings. This is “not least in order to strengthen their legal position vis-à-vis the state. Today, victims are only witnesses in their own case and therefore have little right to monitor the progress of the case or make comments.” The organisations also call for increased funding for the investigation and prosecution of cases involving sexual offences and intimate partner violence.

The press release acknowledges that the European Court of Human Rights has many cases on its agenda and “dismisses the vast majority of cases. Expectations of obtaining a substantial decision in favour of the applicants are therefore tempered.” The process is expected to take 5-6 years, meaning no results are expected in the near future.

Sex Ed to Be Reviewed By Experts

Reykjavík school

The Icelandic government has appointed a task force of 13 experts to review the country’s sexual education curriculum. The group will turn in a timeline of suggested measures and their projected cost by the end of February and complete its review in full by May 2021. The measures are meant to improve sexual education and violence prevention education in primary and secondary schools.

As part of its work, the expert panel will carry out a survey on sex education in order to collect impressions from teachers, school administrators, and students. The panel will then decide whether changes need to be implemented to the sexual education curriculum, and also teacher training, the role of specialised staff such as school nurses and counsellors, in order to improve the quality of education. The recent parliamentary resolutions on prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment among children and youth will be a source of reference for the panel’s work.

The task force is chaired by activist and lecturer Sólborg Guðbrandsdóttir, who has been working to raise awareness of online harassment and gender-based harassment since 2016, primarily through her Instagram account Fávitar (Idiots). Sólborg recently published a book of the same name, featuring real sexual health and relationship questions she has received from Icelandic youth and her answers to them. The book reached seventh place on Iceland’s bestseller list in November.

One Third of Parliamentarians Report Being Victims of Bullying

Over one third of MPs who responded to a recent survey said they had been subject to bullying during their time in parliament. The survey on bullying and sexual and gender-based harassment of MPs and parliamentary staff was conducted last January and February by the University of Iceland’s Social Science Research Institute. Speaker of Alþingi Steingrímur J. Sigfússon called the results of the survey “shocking” and stated they should be taken seriously.

Bullying in Parliament

When asked whether they had been bullied at some point during their time in parliament, 80% of respondents who answered the question stated they had not. Bullying was more common among MPs than parliamentary staff: 35.7% of MPs stated they had been bullied at work or in connection to their job. The proportion was 15% among parliamentary staff and 6.3% among party staff. There was no measurable difference in proportion between genders. More than one third of those who had been subject to bullying stated they had experienced it within in the past six months.

Most Sexual Harassment Goes Unreported

Around 16% of respondents stated they had experienced sexual harassment in connection with their job, 12.5% of those within the last six months. The vast majority (87.5%) said they had been harassed by a man while 12.5% of harassers were reported to be women. Only 12.5% of those who had been sexually harassed said they had reported the incident.

In total 18.4% of respondents stated they had experienced gender-based harassment at some point during their time at parliament. As with bullying, a larger proportion of MPs had experienced gender-based harassment (31.8%) than parliamentary or party staff. Women were more likely to have experienced gender-based harassment than men (25% to 10.4%) and 74% of perpetrators were reported to be men.

Alþingi’s Speakers’ Committee decided to form an Equality Committee last January that will now discuss how to follow up on the survey’s findings.

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]

Political Parties Host MeToo Meeting

#MeToo Meeting

Political Parties hosted an open meeting this morning in Reykjavík to discuss the MeToo movement and its effect on politics. The event was streamed live on the Left Green Movement’s Facebook page.

The meeting opened with an address from Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Katrín encouraged the parties present to approach the issue as a systemic one, rather than divide along party lines, as has “happened in many countries around us. That way we destroy the opportunity to examine ourselves and our own culture and system. No party can maintain they are free of the danger of gender harassment, gender-based violence, or gender-based discourse.”

Following Katrín’s address, special guest Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, presented the results of a study conducted by the organisation titled “Sexism, harassment, and violence against women in parliaments in Europe.” The findings of the Europe-wide study showed that 85.2% of women MPs who responded had experienced psychological violence as part of their job in politics. While 46.9% had received death threats or threats of rape or beating, 67.9% had been the target of sexist comments and 58.2% had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
A panel discussion followed the addresses featuring representatives from all sitting parties in the Icelandic parliament. Panel members addressed questions from the audience at the end of the meeting. Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir criticised the Icelandic parliament for its reaction to the Klaustur Scandal. Minister and Progressive Party MP Lilja Alfreðsdóttir agreed with Þórhildur, adding that society had sent a clear message to parliament that such behaviour would no longer be tolerated.

‘Women’s School’ Vandalised With Misogynistic Graffiti

The premises of Kvennaskólinn, or Kvennó as it’s colloquially known, were vandalized with hateful graffiti last night Vísir reports. “There’s a great deal of misogyny in these messages,” remarked principal Hjalti Jón Sveinsson, “and we’re concerned about this kind of thinking.”

The graffiti was spray painted on the school building and grounds and included phrases such as “Fuck You!” og “Kvennó Lessur,” or “Kvennó Lesbos.”

Kvennaskólinn translates as “The Women’s School,” and was founded as the first secondary school for women in Iceland in 1874. The school was women-only for just over a century, but the first male student being admitted in 1977. Women still make up the majority of the students, but the male population has steadily increased over the years and now stands at 38%.

Hjalti Jón said it’s possible that there’s some sort of secondary school humor behind the messages that he doesn’t understand. However, while there have been various acts of vandalism on the school grounds before, he says there’s never been anything quite like this. “I’d come to work in the morning maybe and someone would have egged or spray-painted the school.”

Hjalti Jón said that the vandalism would be painted over as soon as possible and also that he’d be checking the security camera footage to try and determine who was on the grounds last night. The school is still considering whether or not to refer the matter to the police. Typically in cases like this, Hjalti would just contact the principals of other nearby secondary schools and together, they’d address this kind misogynistic and homophobic thinking directly with their students.

“They were really shocked,” said Hjalti when asked about the students’ reaction to the vandalism. “They found it really humiliating—this is just so far from their way of thinking. They’re hurt and angry.”


UN Women Launches Powerful Campaign on Gender-Based Violence

UN Women in Iceland debuted a powerful new video on its Facebook page on Thursday. Vísir reports that the video, part of an initiative entitled “Gender-Based Violence is Closer Than You Think,” shows men reading out the true stories of women around the world who have survived sexual assault.

The men reading include Icelandic rapper Króli, as well as former coach of the Icelandic women’s football team Freyr Alexandersson and actor Valur Freyr Einarsson. The stories they read are quite graphic in the details of the assaults they describe and at least one man stops mid-reading, saying he can’t go any further. At the end of the video, however, it is revealed that one of the women whose story is being read is actually sitting in front of the readers.

The video is part of the HeForShe UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality and ends with a call to “condemn gender-based violence” on the UN Women’s website. The website also includes the full stories of survivors of sexual assault from Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Gambia, Myanmar, and Iceland and outlines the outreach and activism work of UN Women in Iceland.

You can watch the video (in Icelandic) on the UN Women in Iceland website here. Viewers should be warned that it includes graphic descriptions of sexual violence.