Women in Iceland Still Bear the Brunt of Domestic Labour

Women in Iceland are more likely than men to reduce their paid work hours in order to do unpaid work within the household. Women are also more likely to extend their parental leave than men and bear more responsibility when it comes to communicating with their children’s schools. Eight per cent of men never worry about household chores or childcare.

These findings are from a recent study conducted by Varða, a labour market research institute in Iceland. The study examines how couples balance work and family life and is based on a survey of parents with children 1-12 years old. Heimildin reported first.

Women more likely to work part-time

The study shows that women are more likely to work part-time than men: 68% of mothers were working full-time compared to 96% of fathers. The main reason mothers were working part-time was to make it easier to balance work and family duties. Women bore more responsibility for childcare after parental leave, did more of the communication with schools and after-school centres than men, and were more likely to worry about household tasks and childcare while at work than men. Women had also chosen their careers in order to facilitate balancing family and professional life to a greater extent than men.

Despite having one of the highest women’s employment rates in the world and scoring highly on many measures of gender equality, women in Iceland are more likely to reduce their paid working hours than men in Iceland. Women also bear the brunt of household chores and child-rearing and household management, or the so-called second and third shift.

Balance between work and family affects health

The survey asked parents how often they worry about household tasks and childcare when they are at work. A much higher percentage of women than men reported having such worries on a daily basis (43%) compared to men (27.7%). A higher percentage of men reported never having such worries (8%) compared to women (4.8%).

Varða’s report points to research showing that a balance between family and professional life, or a lack thereof, can have a decisive impact on health, both mental and physical. Studies have also shown that a good work-family balance increases people’s job satisfaction and work capacity.

Read more about the women’s rights movement in Iceland and Iceland’s recent shortening of the work week.

Icelandic Government to Research Gender Distribution of Unpaid Work

ungbarnasund baby swimming

While research suggests that women do much more unpaid work in Iceland than men, concrete data on the issue is lacking. Last Friday, the Icelandic government approved Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s proposal to conduct a study on what is often called the “second shift” or “third shift;” unpaid housework and caretaking work; and its distribution between genders in Iceland. The results will be used to shape government policy.

“In neighbouring countries, time use studies have been carried out that have been used in policy making, and an Icelandic study on this topic could give clear and easily understandable results and manage to capture the gendered reality in a different way than has previously been done,” a government notice states. The study will be carried out in collaboration with Statistics Iceland.

Majority of Icelandic State’s shift workers are women

The Icelandic government recently published its third report on mapping gender perspectives, a joint ministry initiative that maps gender perspectives in relation to government work as well as presents proposals for action. The report’s findings include that women make up the vast majority of shift workers employed by the state. These female shift workers are much more likely to work part-time than other women employed by the state.

Women in Iceland are also much more likely to be granted disability status due to musculoskeletal disorders than men. The rates of musculoskeletal disorders have decreased among both women and men, however, in recent years.

The government has also approved a proposal that each ministry define at least one specific gender equality goal for the 2024-2028 budget and work systematically towards it, with defined actions in the budget proposal.

Women’s Euro Stadium Choices ‘Disrespectful to Women’s Football’

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, the captain of Iceland’s national women’s football team, had strong words this week for the stadiums that have been chosen for the women’s European Championship, which will take place in England this summer, ESPN reports. The choice of several low-capacity arenas are “embarrassing,” Sara Björk remarked, and “not the respect we deserve. They haven’t prepared for the fact that we can sell more than 4,000, it is disrespectful to women’s football.”

Sara Björk made the remarks while speaking to the podcast Their Pitch and was particularly referring to the 5,000-seat Manchester City Academy stadium, where two of Iceland’s games will be played. “I am disappointed with the arenas we have been given,” she said. “It is shocking—we play a tournament in England with several large arenas, and we get to play at a training facility that takes around 5,000 spectators.”

A Euro 2022 spokesperson responded to Sara Björk’s critiques saying, “Manchester City Academy is not a training ground. It is the official home stadium of Manchester City Women’s Football Club…We believe that with two of the biggest football stadiums in England [Old Trafford and Wembley], four venues with a capacity of 30,000 or more, two venues over 10,000 and two stadiums under 10,000, the right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential.”

FA’s stadium choices ‘felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now,’ says Guardian football writer

In a piece for The Guardian, however, football writer Suzanne Wrack called Sara Björk’s frustrations “understandable,” saying “her remarks highlighted a number of important questions, chiefly among them whether the Football Association was ambitious enough in its choice of venues and whether it has done enough to adapt to the accelerating growth of the game? Arguably, the answer to both questions is no.”

Wrack goes on to point out that while women’s football, and the public’s interest in it, was in a much different place four years ago when England’s Football Association (FA) made its bid to host the tournament, “the signs of potentially rapid growth were already there and were either overlooked, ignored or woefully underestimated.” She continued by saying that “[i]t was, and always has been, clear that major international competitions qualitatively impact the growth of the women’s game.” Preceded then as it was by the launching of the Women’s Super League as a full-time professional league in 2018, the 2019 World Cup, and a broader, stated goal of doubling the fanbase by 2020, the FA’s choice of stadiums “felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now.”

‘They should 100% reconsider’

Responding to the FA’s claim that they’ve chosen “the right mix of stadiums…to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential,” Sara Björk noted that both of Iceland’s matches at the academy have already sold out, and she believes that these sales, as well as sell-outs across the group phases, speak for themselves.

“But matches will be played in larger arenas that I’m sure will sell out,” she continued. “Women’s football explodes, and you start to get the respect you deserve. It’s getting better—more money is being pumped in now and it’s going in the right direction. But there are still things that need to improve.”

“They should 100% reconsider [changing the stadiums],” Sara Björk concluded. “Because if you look at the reactions and how many people buy tickets and how popular it has become, then you have to reconsider.”

The Women’s Euro 2022 will be held from July 6 – 31; Iceland will play July 10 (vs. Belgium); July 14 (vs Italy); and July 18 (vs France). You can listen to Sara Björk’s full interview with Their Pitch (in English) here.

“Is Everything Alright?”

is everything alright

Iceland’s Justice Minister, National Police Commissioner, and Emergency Response Service 112 launched a sexual assault prevention campaign today, with the first phase specifically aimed at nightclubs. The campaign asks the public to be on the lookout for violence when taking part in nightlife, ask “Is everything alright?” if they suspect it may not be, and call 112 if necessary. Some locals have criticised the campaign for focusing on bystanders rather than the perpetrators of sexual offences.

Decrease in reported rapes during periods of social restrictions

A press release from the campaign states that reports of rape decreased by 43% in 2020, a statistic authorities relate to the social restrictions that were in place that year, closing bars and nightclubs for some periods and limiting their operational hours during others. According to the Police Commissioner’s Office, a large proportion of reported rapes take place between Friday and Sunday, between the hours of midnight and 6:00 AM. While the police registered 114 cases of rape in 2020, the average number between 2017 and 2019 was 201. Reports increased once more when restrictions were relaxed in 2021. “Changes to restrictions therefore had a clear impact on the frequency of rape,” the press release states.

“I have emphasised that in order to reduce sexual offences, we need to mobilise all of society. We must all be vigilant and our responsibility to eradicate this evil in Icelandic society cannot be ignored,” Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated. “Our experience throughout the pandemic shows that rape and other forms of violence are not inevitable. We all want a life without infection prevention restrictions again but we also want a life without violence. To that end, we are raising awareness about sexual assault.”

“Educate perpetrators”

Some locals have criticised the campaign for not placing responsibility on the perpetrators of sexual assault. “Seems at first glance that this is yet another campaign where the responsibility is shifted to everyone other than the perpetrators,” one Icelandic woman tweeted. “This is so ridiculous,” another wrote. “Almost as ridiculous as when the Icelandic Travel Industry Association launched the project ‘Protection against prostitution’. Put the money into something useful. Educate perpetrators. Don’t place the responsibility on victims or bystanders.”

Jón Gunnarsson and his assistant Brynjar Níelsson have previously been criticised for their voting record on women’s issues. MP and Reform Party Chairperson stated last December that she did not trust the two when it came to supporting issues of gender equality.

Nearly 100 Companies Overdue for Equal Pay Certification

Just under a quarter of the companies that are legally required to obtain equal pay certification still had yet to do so at the end of 2021. This according to new data published by the Directorate of Equality on Friday. A total of 415 companies should have completed certification by the end of 2021, but 94 (22.65%) of them had yet to do so.

The equal pay certification mandate applies to any company that employs 25 or more workers on an annual basis, using the calendar year as a reference period. Per the government’s website, 147,000 employees, or roughly 80% of those who are active on the labour market, are covered by this mandate.

Table on Equal Pay Certification – Status at the end of 2021. Via the Directorate of Equality; jafnretti.is

The data shows that it is primarily companies with 90-149 employees that have yet to complete their certification. Fifty-eight of the 98 companies in this bracket, or 59.18%, are currently uncertified. Fifteen of the 54 qualifying municipalities (27.78%) have also yet to complete the certification.

Equal pay certification became a legal mandate in July 2017, with the goal of “combating the gender pay gap and promoting gender equality in the labour market.” As of November 14, 2018, however, the grace period for companies to acquire certification was extended. Companies with an average of 250 employees or more were supposed to complete certification by December 31, 2019. Companies with an average of 150-249 employees were given until December 31, 2020. Companies with 90-142 employees had until December 31, 2021. Companies with 25-89 employees have until the end of this year.

Per Friday’s announcement, however, the Directorate of Equality now believes that those companies that were supposed to complete the certification process by the end of 2019 and 2020 have been given “ample time” to do so. As such, the Directorate is currently preparing to announce its decision on the imposition of daily fines.

Her Voice Holds Conference on Health of Foreign Women in Iceland

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice, a nonprofit which “strives to raise awareness of the experiences of women of foreign origin in Iceland” will be holding a conference in Reykjavík today, Saturday October 2.

Topics to be discussed include the experience of women of foreign origin within the Icelandic healthcare system, not least as regards accessibility and cultural sensitivity, as well as mental health, sexual health, and freedom. The conference will take place in Icelandic and English and be translated into Polish and English.

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice received funding from the Icelandic Gender Equality Fund to support the conference, which will open with remarks from First Lady Eliza Reid, who is herself originally from Canada. Participants include activists, educators, politicians, artists, researchers, and professionals from Germany, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, Somalia, and the US.

Inspired by her mother

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice was founded by Chanel Björk Sturludóttir and Elínborg Kolbeinsdóttir and took its inspiration from Chanel’s mother, Letetia B. Jonsson, who is of Jamaican and British descent and lived in Iceland about 10 years ago.

“Whilst living in Iceland, Letetia participated in the community of women of foreign origin and met many inspiring women with whom she shared similar challenges in regards to integrating to Icelandic society as well as the language barriers they met,” explains text on the Her Voice website. “As Letetia’s daughter, Chanel experiences these challenges that women of foreign origin in Iceland face through her mother. These difficulties affected Chanel’s own experience as a mixed-race Icelander and encouraged her to take on this matter. After looking to her friend, Elínborg Kolbeinsdóttir, who studied sociology and human rights, they decided to join forces and found an organisation with the common goal to raise awareness of the experiences of women of foreign origin in Icelandic society.”

Her Voice focuses on four key challenges faced by women of foreign origin in Iceland: Language acquistion, Gender-based violence, high unemployment rates, and barriers to adequate health care.

Those who would like to attend the conference can join Her Voice at the same time; a combined ticket and membership costs ISK 1,500. A ticket alone is ISK 1,000. Find out more on the conference website here.



Culture Minister Continues Legal Battle Over Hiring of Male Staffer

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir will continue a legal battle to nullify a ruling that she broke gender equality laws in the hiring of a permanent secretary to her ministry in 2019. The ruling was issued by the Equality Complains Committee in May 2020. Lilja filed a case against the complainant in the Reykjavík District Court last year in an unsuccessful attempt to nullify the ruling. She will now take the case to the Court of Appeal.

In November 2019, the Ministry of Education and Culture announced that Páll Magnússon had been hired as the ministry’s permanent secretary. Páll was then a secretary for the Municipality of Kópavogur and a fellow party member of Lilja’s for the Progressive Party. The Ministry had selected Páll out of 13 applicants, four of which had been interviewed for the position.

Hired Based on Gender, Committee Ruled

Hafdís Helga Ólafsdóttir, secretary-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, was among the rejected applicants for the position. After requesting and receiving the relevant documents concerning the hiring process from the Ministry, she decided to refer the matter to the Equality Complains Committee, who ruled in her favour in May 2020. The Committee ruled that Hafdís Helga’s education and experience had been undervalued whereas Páll’s had been overvalued in the hiring process. The Committee’s evaluation was that it had not been possible to show that Páll was hired for reasons other than his gender and therefore Lilja had broken the Gender Equality Act by hiring him.

State Initiates Personal Court Case

The Equality Complaints Committee’s decisions are meant to be binding and thus cannot be appealed directly. In June 2020, however, Lilja announced she was starting a court case against Hafdís Helga in the name of the Icelandic state with the goal of nullifying the ruling. The decision was based on a legal assessment that Lilja has refused to make public. While Lilja is not the first minister whom the Committee has ruled to have broken the Gender Equality Act, she is the first to not accept such a ruling and sue an individual in the name of the state. Last Friday, the Reykjavík District Court ruled to uphold the Equality Complaints Committee’s ruling and ordered the state to pay Hafdís Helga’s legal fees of ISK 4.5 million ($35,000/€30,000).

Lilja stated that the decision to take the case to the Court of Appeal was “not easy,” but had been made based on legal advice. When asked by reporters whether her decision would prevent women from seeking redress in the future for discriminatory hiring decisions, she stated she does not believe so. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has stated that the matter is entirely under Lilja’s jurisdiction.

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.

Twelve-Month Parental Leave Approved

The government has approved a bill on birth and parental leave presented by Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason. The most notable change is the extension of parental leave from the current ten months to 12 months for children that are born, adopted or fostered permanently from January 1, 2021.

The main change proposed in the bill is an extension of parental leave from 10-12 months. Each parent will have a right to six months of leave, but parents can transfer one month between them so one parent will be able to take seven months and the other 5. The bill has gone through the government’s consultation gateway, and some changes were made during that process. The most controversial point of the bill, inciting the most comments in the Consultation gateway as well as public discourse, is parents’ equal rights to leave. Previous laws had stipulated four months of leave per parent, and two months they could divide between them according to their preference. While some criticised the bill for reducing flexibility for parents, others have praised it for encouraging men to take equal leave as women.

Before the consultation process, the proposed bill stated that parents forfeit the right to leave if they hadn’t used it before the child reached the age of 18 months, but the revised bill allows parents to take leave until the child is 24 months old, as before. Other stipulations in the bill include the transference of the right to parental leave if one parent can’t use their leave. The reasons including restraining orders, no right to parental leave in Iceland or their country of origin, or if the child’s paternity is disputed.

The bill is the result of the work of a committee the Minister appointed in 2019 to review the 20-years old laws on parental leave. The minister had stated that even though the rules were progressive at the time, it’s high time to review them. “We want Iceland to be a good place to have and raise children, and with this bill, we’re increasing the rights of parents to spend time with their children in the first months of their lives.” Projected costs of parental leave in 2021 will be 19.1 billion ISK, just under double the amount in 2017.


Equality-Driven App Wins Icelandic Startup Competition

An app called Heima, that helps families or housemates manage the “mental load” of housework is the winning idea at this year’s Gulleggið startup competition. Heima (Home in English) was thought up by Sigurlaug Jóhannsdóttir, Birgitta Rún Sveinbjörnsdóttir, and Alma Dóra Ríkharðsdóttir, who wanted to support the struggle for equality in a fun way.

“Studies continue to show that within families, women take on both more chores and more of the mental load involved in managing the household,” Sigurlaug told Iceland Review. “The app asks users a few questions about their home and how they manage it: how large the home is, how much and how often they want to clean, and then it creates a schedule.” Users then earn points for completing chores and can track what percentage of the household duties they are completing.

Alma Dóra and Sigurlaug attended primary school together and reconnected after they both moved to Boston. “We started talking about our shared interest in innovation and equality, and in August Alma pitched this idea to me and we decided to register for Gulleggið.” They got UX designer Birgitta on board to help develop the idea.

More than just a competition, Gulleggið offers workshops, training, and advice to participants over a period of six weeks, at the end of which they present their developed ideas to a panel of startup experts who name ten finalists and one winner. Heima’s first-place win comes with an ISK 1 million ($7,200/€6,100) cash prize, which Sigurlaug says will be used to develop the app further. Though it’s just in its early stages, the team aims to release Heima next year.

Sigurlaug says the trio has gotten lots of positive feedback on their idea. “It’s so good to get confirmation that it’s something that is really needed in the home, that has encouraged us in this process.”

A prototype of the app is available in Icelandic.