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.

Longest Icelandic Love Letter Four Metres Long

The longest love letter to have been written in Icelandic is four metres [13 ft] long and was written over a month-long period a hundred and twenty years ago, RÚV reports.

The letter was written by Sigurbjörn Á. Gíslason, who was living in Copenhagen, Denmark, to his beloved, Guðrún Lárusdóttir, who was in Reykjavík. The pair would marry a year later and have ten children together.

Willem van de Poll, CC0

Guðrún was a remarkable woman: a two-term member of parliament (1930 – 1934) and only the second woman to serve in Alþingi. She was also a translator of Danish, English, and German, and a women’s rights activist. Sigurbjörn was a pastor who founded Grund, the longest-running nursing home in Iceland, and was also an editor and publisher of a number of periodicals in Reykjavík. Both Guðrún and Sigurbjörn were known around the capital for their political and social work.

In a letter she wrote him in December 1900, Guðrún asked Sigurbjörn to send her a long letter when he next replied. Her lover rose splendidly to the challenge, pasting together sheet after sheet of paper and penning his epic, affectionate reply between December 1900 and January 1901. Sigurbjörn didn’t cheat, either–his letter is written in small, ornate script across densely spaced lines. His letter was long enough, he wrote, to embrace Guðrún while he could not embrace her himself. Perhaps in a nod to Guðrún’s linguistic skills, Sigurbjörn not only wrote his letter in Icelandic, but also Danish, English, and German.

The couple’s love story unfortunately has a tragic ending. In 1938, they were travelling with two of their daughters and a driver when the vehicle they were in plunged into the Tungufljót river. Sigurbjörn and the driver were able to escape, but Guðrún and her daughters drowned. It was the first time that anyone died in a car accident in Iceland and Guðrún and her daughters were much mourned, with a large crowd gathering for their memorial procession and funeral.

The four-metre love letter is archived in the Women’s History Archives, which is located on the first floor of the National and University Library, along with over a hundred other letters the couple wrote to one another.

Sigríður Björk Named National Police Commissioner

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has named Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir the National Police Commissioner of Iceland, effective March 16, Kjarninn reports. Sigríður has been Chief of Police in the capital area since 2014 and is the first woman to serve in that office.

The Office of the National Commissioner of Police began operations in 1997. Haraldur Johannessen held the office of National Police Commissioner for 22 years, until stepping down last year after rising tensions in the police force led to eight out of nine police commissioners in the country declared a vote of no confidence in Haraldur’s leadership. Kjartan Þorkelsson, Chief of Police of South Iceland, temporarily replaced Haraldur while the Minister of Justice began seeking applications for a permanent replacement in the position.

Prior to assuming the position of police chief in the capital, Sigríður was chief of the Suðurnes Police in South Iceland and acted as assistant police commissioner from 2007 to 2008. She’s also worked in other regions of the country: she was sheriff of Ísafjörður from 2002 to 2006 and chief tax inspector in the Westfjords from 1996 to 2002.

Icelandic Women’s Rights Association Elects First Chairperson of Foreign Origin

The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association elected its first chairperson of foreign origin since its founding in 1907. Kjarninn reports new chairperson Tatjana Latinovic has been an activist and advocate for the rights of women and immigrants since moving to Iceland in 1994.

Tatjana has been on the board of the association and acted as vice-chair since 2015. She takes over her new position from Fríða Rós Valdimarsdóttir, who is stepping down as chair after four years in the role and eight years as a board member.

Tatjana is one of the founders of the Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network (W.O.M.E.N) in Iceland and was also on the board of the Kvennaathvarf women’s shelter from 2004 to 2012. She is also the chair of the Immigrant Council and is the Women’s Rights Association’s representative on the Equality Council.

“The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association has a 112-year history in the struggle for equality. I am proud to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of women who have acted as chair before me and I look forward to putting my mark on the continuing struggle for equal rights for everyone,” said Tatjana in her address at the association’s general meeting.

Burnout on the Rise Among Young People

Young people, and more particularly, young women, are experiencing higher levels of burnout at work, RÚV reports. According to Linda Bára Lýðsdóttir, a psychologist at the Virk Vocational Rehabilitation Fund, anxiety and depression are on the rise, even as employment conditions are largely positive for a good portion of the nation. This increase used to be particularly prevalent among workers over the age of 40, but recent studies show that it is now becoming more common among younger people.

“This is a problem for everyone, but there’s increasing incidence among young people, and especially young women,” explains Linda. “It’s a cause for concern. I have a recent study from Britain – tens of thousands of people took part in their study – and in it, they point to the incidence of depression and anxiety disorders among young women rising a great deal nowadays, while it’s fairly stable among men.” She says that this is a problem in Iceland as well. “I don’t think we’re any exception there. This happens in most welfare states today.”

Professional environments that could be considered “women’s workplaces” are also particularly vulnerable to burnout, Linda continues. “We’re seeing burnout in a large proportion of women’s workplaces,” she says, “in the fields of education and health care and it’s more or less women who work there.”

It’s been speculated that this burnout could be connected to Iceland’s financial collapse ten years ago, says Linda, as the crash put increased pressure on people to work harder and overcome their economic straits. At the time, a great deal of emphasis was placed on keeping a close eye on children and it was said that attention would need to be paid to these young people’s wellbeing seven to ten years in the future, which is to say: now.

There’s been a great deal of discussion of late in regards to shortening Icelanders’ work hours, but Linda says that this is not necessarily the best solution. The issue, she says, is people’s workload, and nothing will be solved if workers are simply responsible for the same amount of work in a shorter time frame.

“The Situtation” – Immorality and Indignation in Wartime Iceland

Women having drinks with some soldiers

Imagine you live on an island in the middle of nowhere. Everyone kind of looks the same, at least not that different from you, and you take pride in being able to trace your ancestry back hundreds of years. Recently, a great depression left hundreds of families homeless and the hardship has taken its toll. It really doesn’t matter though: you take pride in who you are, your nationality, and your survival instinct. You know there’s a war happening in Europe but so far it hasn’t affected you in a palpable way.

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No Money for Marrying Icelandic Maiden

False rumors about the Icelandic government offering financial compensation to foreign men willing to marry Icelandic women have caused dozens of suitors to contact the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs, mbl.is reports.

A story published on a website called thespiritwhispers.com claims that Icelandic authorities pay males USD 5,000 (ISK 608,000, EUR 4,500) a month for marrying Icelandic women. Men from North Africa are said to have priority. The reason given for the government’s generosity is not the lack of beauty or intelligence among Icelandic women, but a lack of males in the country.

At the bottom of the story, people are asked to leave a comment regarding this offer. Numerous readers have done so, and the story is the website’s most read.

There is no truth either to the claim that there is a lack of males in Iceland. Whoever the people are who run this website, they waste no time checking their facts and, more obviously, not their spelling either. The story is written in broken English.

According to information from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, between 30 and 40 inquiries have been received regarding the matter. All of them are answered with the simple explanation that the story is entirely unfounded.

The Danish embassy in Egypt, which handles Icelandic affairs, has also reiterated on its Facebook page that there is no basis for the report.