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.

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.’”