Women in Iceland leave work 14 percent early to protest 14 percent pay gap

26 October 2016

Mind the gap! Women in Iceland demand equal pay by demonstrating what a 14% pay gap looks like in real time.

The New York Time’s excellent section, ‘Women In The World’, delivered this tasty bit of news this morning. And boy do we wish things were different. On Monday, female employees across Iceland walked out of their workplaces at 2.38pm to protest against earning less than their male counterparts. The action was centred in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, where thousands of women gathered in central Austurvöllur square after leaving their workplaces ‘early’. Their demonstration was echoed country wide through smaller protests.

As in Australia, wage disparity means women all across Europe are essentially working for free. Australia’s pay gap hovers around 17%, so imagine our surprise when we heard that in Iceland – the country known for its state of the art gender equality, the gender pay gap looms large at 14%.

It’s been illegal to pay someone differently based on their gender in Iceland for nearly 60 years, and yet the gap persists. Wages are assumed to be based on education and job type – not gender.

Women employees make 14 to 18 percent less than men in Iceland — a discrepancy that unions and women’s organisations say means women effectively work for free after 2:38 pm. On Monday, in protest of the pay gap, thousands of Icelandic women decided to work the hours their pay merited — by leaving their workplaces promptly when the clock struck 2:38. – Read the full piece here.

As the Independent reports, the protest had precedent: on 24 October 1975 Icelandic women took a “day off”. An estimated 90 per cent of the female population participated, leaving work and refusing to cook or look after children to draw attention to their importance in society, but lack of political power and equal pay.

In 2005, women left work at 2.08pm — the minute they began working for free. In 2008, it was 2.25pm. In eleven years, less than three minutes has been gained annually towards eliminating the gender pay gap, English-language Icelandic news site Grapevine reported.  If progress continues at the same rate, it will take 52 years to eliminate the disparity between men and women’s earnings in Iceland entirely. Read the full piece here.

Iceland is really letting the team down, especially when you consider the epic gender equality triumphs the country lays claim to.

“Iceland is a good place to be a woman,” says Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who in 1980 became Iceland’s president and, in so doing, the world’s first democratically elected woman president. Things weren’t always so clear cut, however. Before October 24, 1975, when 90 percent of Iceland’s women went on strike — refusing to work, cook, or even provide childcare — only nine women had ever won seats in the country’s parliament. Just five years later, Finnbogadottir was elected. By 1999, more than a third of the country’s MPs were women.

And in 2000, Iceland’s government passed a landmark parental leave legislation that many credit with helping women to return to work, and their former hours, more quickly after childbirth. Today, 90 percent of Icelandic fathers take parental leave — and research has shown that they continue to be involved in housework and childcare even after the leave is over. Read the full piece here.

The saddest part? Despite the huge wage gap, women in Iceland actually fare quite well in the workplace compared to female workers in many other parts of Europe – let alone the developing world. According to a recent survey which placed the wage gap in Iceland at only 14 per cent, women in the UK are earning nearly 20 per cent less than their male counterparts. This means women in Britain are essentially working for free everyday from 19 October until the end of the year.
Australia is not too far behind.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

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