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.

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.”

Icelandic Government to Research Gender Distribution of Unpaid Work

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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.