Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir is a researcher and professor of gender studies at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
In an interview with euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat, she elaborates on the reasons which give Iceland a lead in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report, and explains how this positions can also be at risk, if remaining issues are not addressed.
“The global gender gap which is published annually by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which is the index that gets Iceland in the first place, is based on 4 pillars: economy, education, politics and health. It’s the political area that gets Iceland to the first place. The situation in Iceland can be explained by many things. One of them is the long tradition of women in paid work in Iceland. We’ve had a high proportion of women in the labour force for a very long time. Another part is the very strong women’s movement, from the beginning of
the 20th century. And the third thing is the composition of the pillar, the WEF index. Iceland scores higher in politics, it’s number one in politics and mainly because of the way the pillar is constructed. It’s composed of 4 sub indexes and one of them is the number of years, the last 50 years that the country has had a female head of State. And in that respect, the presidential period of of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, from 1980 to 1996; and also we had a female prime minister from 2009 to 2013, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. This contributes heavily to Iceland’s top seat on the list.
But in the elections in october 2017, the proportion of women dropped dramatically from 48 to 38. and it remains to be seen how that affects Iceland’s and if it affects position on the list and how much.”
“Even those facts are quite exceptional compared to other places in the world. Would you say there is a specific icelandic element to it?”*
“In addition to the political area, we have economics, and Iceland doesn’t do as well there: we’re not in the top ten countries in that respect. Even if women have been in the labour market for a long time they’re not doing that well in economic opportunities and things like that, gender pay gap. The Icelandic way maybe is, as I said, the strong women’s movement which has been a very strong driving force for a very long time and we have had this activities and events that are very well known, like the womens day off in 1975, which has been repeated several times, I think 5 times since then. Also we have a women’s list that were active in the beginning and end of the 20th century.
And I think the smallness of the country also contributes to this in a way because with the smallness comes these close ties, networks, connections. And we have a very easy and fast flow of information. So for example when we had the last women’s day off in 2016, it was a very short time of preparation. So women can act when they can mobilise within a very short time, lots and lots of women. There are coalitions between the different parts of the women’s movements. Now we have internet activism, and small groups, and networks all over the place. And it’s very easy to mobilise solidarity and cooperation between these.
There are still some issues in Iceland. Domestic violence is often quoted. So is it because the rates are higher, or because the tolerance level is lower?
“The UN CEDAW committee (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), in it’s last report in Iceland 2008 made remarks on Iceland. It was concerned on gender based violence. First about how few cases were taken to court, how few cases ended in prosecution and conviction compared to those reported and investigated and that continues to be a problem.
Also there is concern about the sentences that were lighter than in other countries. This is a problem in Iceland, and according to research we have not as severe sentences as comparable countries.
This is a kind of paradox, a strong position is some areas and not in others. But this might also be that we have somewhat polarised debate in Iceland. We had these active measures introduced by politicians, we had the paternity leave, we have quotas on boards on companies, we have now the equal pays standard that is legalised. Iceland is not the first country to introduce measures but we have a national legalised pay standard that every company has to follow. Of course this has mobilised some resistance among men. And also because we have a strong women’s movement, it might have triggered stronger resistance among some men. That would be my answer to that.”