Women Doctors Uncover Gender Pay Gap at Children’s Hospital

Landspítali national hospital

Three paediatricians at Landspítali, The National University Hospital of Iceland, uncovered a gender pay gap at the children’s wing, Vísir reports. The women’s pay has since been adjusted accordingly and they’ve been given back pay to correct the injustice.

The three paediatricians, all women, started investigating salaries in the wake of the Women’s Strike last October. They utilised a clause in legislation that allowed them to access the salaries of all specialist doctors at the children’s and women’s wing and discovered that the men received higher pay, irrespective of qualifications.

Women’s experience not valued

According to collective bargaining agreements, doctor pay is mostly determined by education and the length of their careers. In addition, administrators can make a subjective choice on additional pay, taking into account factors such as subspecialties, administrative experience, and research and teaching history. A memo on how these factors should be evaluated was published in 2016, but was not used when the women were hired that same year.

A small gap remains

The women published an article in The Icelandic Medical Journal exposing the pay gap after appealing to a public committee on equality. Hospital administrators corrected their pay accordingly. Furthermore, the hospital looked into the wage setting of all specialist doctors at the hospital and found a 1.4% bias towards men. The hospital has had an equal pay certification since 2020 and a goal of keeping the gender pay gap under 2.5% at any time.

“I will never again believe that wage setting is fair,” said one of the doctors, Helga Elídóttir. “I’ll need to look for myself.”

Tens of Thousands Participate in Women’s Strike

women's strike iceland 2023

The Women’s Strike taking place today across Iceland is seeing widespread participation. Exact numbers are not yet known, but forecasts indicate that tens of thousands of women and non-binary individuals are participating.

At the forefront of the strike is the gender pay gap, in addition to gender-based violence. The so-called “third shift,” in which women perform unpaid domestic labour such as childcare and household chores, has also been increasingly discussed by activists.

This marks the sixth women’s strike since Women’s Day Off in 1975, the first such labour action in Iceland.

Disruption to services

As reported yesterday, the strike has had an outsized impact on fields such as healthcare and education, where women form a majority of the workforce.

Vísir also reports that all pools in the Reykjavík area except one, Klébergslaug on the Kjalarnes peninsula, are closed today. Klébergslaug will, however, have shortened hours, open only between 4:00 and 10:00 pm.

Almost all bank branches will be closed. All branches of Landsbankinn and Arion bank will be closed, except for the location in Smáralind shopping centre.

Many municipal services will also be reduced today, either due to shortened hours or outright closures.

Air travel is not expected to be significantly affected today. Though a majority of employees in the sector are women, airline executives have stated that other employees are filling in for those participating in the strike.

Large protests in Reykjavík

One of the main events of the day is a protest organised on Arnarhóll hill, in downtown Reykjavík. Thousands were in attendance and a live stream can be viewed from RÚV here.

Highlights of the programme include talks by activists and live musical performances.

Women and non-binary persons outside Reykjavík are also taking part. RÚV reports that a group of women working in Akranes, for example, staged a “knit-in,” when their employer made clear that they wouldn’t be paid if they were to go on strike.

International media attention

The Women’s Strike has also drawn considerable attention from the international press, with outlets from the New York Times to the BBC and the Guardian covering the strike.

According to the World Economic Forum, Iceland has done the most to reduce the gender gap in the world. According to the WEF, the gap is 91.2% closed in Iceland.



Propose Abolishing Iceland’s Housewife Holiday Funds

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.”

46 Years Since First Women’s Day Off in Iceland

2018 Women's Day off Protest kvennafrídagurinn

Yesterday marked 46 years since Iceland’s first “Women’s Day Off,” when women left their workplaces and took to the streets to protest the gender pay gap. Around 25,000 women attended that first protest in Lækjartorg square, which sparked similar movements around the world. Women’s average salary in Iceland is still just 77.2% of men’s average salary, according to the newest figures from Statistics Iceland.

The first Women’s Day Off was held in 1975, and five more protests have been organised in Iceland since then: in 1985, 2005, 2010, 2016, and 2018. No public protest was held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the Women’s History Archives held a feminist history walk yesterday in downtown Reykjavík.

Despite legislation intended to ensure equal pay, Iceland’s gender pay gap persists. As of last year, women still filled less than 25% of CEO and chair positions in Icelandic businesses and the proportion of women on boards for companies with more than 50 employees was just under 35% in 2019.

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.

Slow Going to Implement Equal Pay Certification

equal pay certification

Just under half of the companies that were required to obtain equal pay certification by the end of 2019 according to Iceland’s new equal pay legislation have done so. The legislation, which was championed around the world, requires Icelandic companies with over 25 employees to prove they are paying men and women equally.

As of the end of 2019, of the 269 companies and institutions that were required to obtain the certification, only 134 had done so. While the legislation applies to some 147,000 workers on Iceland’s labour market, currently only 60,000 are covered by the certification.

The legislation gave companies varying deadlines to obtain the certification based on their number of employees. All companies with more than 25 employees are required to have the certification by the end of 2022.

Read more about Iceland’s equal pay legislation which went into effect in 2018.

Large Crowd Gathered at Women’s Day Off

A large crowd of women flocked to downtown Reykjavík for the Women’s Day Off protest. The women left work at 2.55pm today to protest gender income inequality. This year’s event bears the slogan “Don’t change women, change the world.”

This is the fifth time that women in Iceland have staged a mass walkout in protest of the gender pay gap since the first time the Kvennafrí, or “Women’s Day Off,” protest was held in 1975. The walkout takes place at the exact time at which women have earned their wages compared to their male counterparts. Women are paid 26% less than men, on average, and the walkout therefore takes place at 2.55pm. Previous walkouts took place in 1985, 2005, 2010, and 2016.

In 2005, this meant that women left their jobs at 2.08pm. Five years later, they left at 2.25pm. In 2016, they left at 2.38pm. According to the Kvennafrí website, the gender pay gap adjusted for working hours is at 16%, but the income gap is still quite high: on average, women in Iceland earn 74% of the wages of their male counterparts. “We have gained only 47 minutes in 13 years,” reads the website. “If progress continues at the same pace, we will need to wait another 29 years before women in Iceland have the same wages on average as men, in the year 2047!”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir left work today at 2.55pm and encouraged her female staff at the Prime Minister’s Office to do the same, mbl.is reports.

Today’s festivities at Arnarhóll included speeches by former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Efling union, lawyer Claudie Wilson, and Áslaug Thelma Einarsdóttir. Performing artists included women’s choirs Vox feminae and Katla, Léttsveit Reykjavíkur, and Múltíkúlti as well as rap group Reykjavíkurdætur. A mini play by Yrsa Þöll Gylfadóttir was also presented. Actresses Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir and Saga Garðarsdóttir hosted the event.

“Don’t Change Women, Change the World”

pay gap iceland

Women in Iceland are organising to walk out of their jobs at 2.55pm on Wednesday, October 24, Mbl.isreports. This is the fifth time that women in Iceland have staged a mass walkout in protest of the gender pay gap since the first time the Kvennafrí, or “Women’s Day Off,” protest was held in 1975. Previous walkouts took place in 1985, 2005, 2010, and 2016. “We urge women to walk out,” remarked event project manager Maríanna Clara Lúthersdóttir. “Not just for themselves, but for all other women in Iceland.”

In recent years, the walkouts have taken place at the exact time at which women have earned their wages when compared to their male counterparts. In 2005, this meant that women left their jobs at 2.08pm. Five years later, they left at 2.25pm. In 2016, they left at 2.38pm. According to the Kvennafrí website, the gender pay gap adjusted for working hours is at 16%, but the income gap is still quite high: on average, women in Iceland earn 74% of the wages of their male counterparts. “We have gained only 47 minutes in 13 years,” reads the website. “If progress continues at the same pace, we will need to wait another 29 years before women in Iceland have the same wages on average as men, in the year 2047!”

While the gender pay gap is still a primary contention for organisers, this year’s Women’s Day Off is expanding its points of focus to include workplace violence and harassment. “It’s all about workplaces and workplace issues,” said Maríanna Clara. “…We’re speaking out about human rights and [working] conditions in a broad sense.”

This year’s event is not only aiming to expand into rural areas across the country, but also to emphasise the importance of supporting immigrant women in Iceland who, per the website, “…in many cases lack the support networks native-born women have and are therefore especially vulnerable to violations of rights at the workplace and violence.” As part of this effort, website resources and materials were translated by volunteers into fourteen languages, including full version translations into English and Polish, and partial translations into Albanian, Chinese, Czech, French, Greek, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish.

Maríanna Clara says that Kvennafrí has attracted the attention of organisers in other countries as well. “Women in Norway have been in touch with us, as have women in Poland, Italy, and Germany. We decided, since there was a call for it, to have a slogan in English, too: ‘Don’t Change Women, Change the World.’”

Companies Put Off Proving Equal Pay

Around 120 companies could face daily fines in January if they do not obtain equal pay certification. The certification, meant to combat the gender wage gap, requires businesses to prove they are paying men and women equally for comparable work. RÚV reports that out of 142 companies with 250 employees or more, only 16, or 11%, have received equal pay certification.

While smaller businesses have up to four years to become certified, companies of 250 employees were given one year to complete the process. Those who do not obtain the certification by the January deadline could face daily fines of up to ISK 50,000 ($470/€400).

“We have of course emphasised trying to encourage most companies to finish this before the end of the year,” says Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Social Affairs and Equality. He adds that the government has increased funding to the project in order to encourage companies to complete the process.

Only three companies in Iceland currently issue the certification, raising concerns that it will be impossible to complete it by the end of the year.

In Focus: Iceland’s Equal Pay Legislation

equal pay legislation

Iceland’s new equal pay legislation has been making international headlines. While people have been quick to comment, either praising Iceland as a feminist utopia or condemning the naïve attempt to fix a complicated problem, the case of equal pay legislation and Iceland’s gender wage gap deserves some closer attention.

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