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About this sample
Words: 863 |
5 min read
Published: Nov 5, 2020
Words: 863|Pages: 2|5 min read
Iceland, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2009 is “the country with the narrowest gender gap in the world” and has remained centuries ahead of others when concerning equal rights. In 1815 it became one of the first to introduce partial female suffrage, granting women of independent means and widows the right to vote in local government elections, eventually granting full parliamentary suffrage to women of all ages by 1920. However, despite these revolutionary strides towards equality in the early 20th Century, Icelandic women had a long way to go to be valued as equals in the home, the workplace and in society itself in the 1970s. This culminated into action, on October 24th 1975, when Icelandic women called for the ‘Women’s Day Off’.
For many, action like this was a long time coming. The women’s and hippy movements of the 1960s introduced the younger populations to change, allowing them to question their societies and governments. Women in Iceland were sick of being viewed as nothing more than housewives and mothers. Jobs were often designated and targeted at particular sexes, as women were expected to work for lower wages. Since women had been allowed to run for election in 1915, only nine women had taken seats in parliament. By 1975 there were only three female MPs, making up a mere 5% of the cabinet, with other Nordic parliaments consisting of 16-23% women.
The main group fighting for women’s rights in Iceland at this time were “The Redstockings”. They were a radical women’s organisation founded in 1969 in New York City which became established in Iceland in 1970 that campaigned to fight against the traditional and restricting views of women, inspired by the liberal student riots in the USA and across Europe during the 1960s. The Icelandic group first proposed a labour strike for the rights of women in the workplace, adopting the name, “Women’s Day Off” to compromise with the older generations who did not appreciate their radical approaches. Following the United Nations declaring 1975 as International Women’s Year, The Redstockings became inspired to take action. The aim of the strike was not to abandon their responsibilities or show hatred for their familial lives but to give people the opportunity to appreciate the role that women play in society. The Redstockings also proved essential in the legalisation of abortions, they campaigned for political parties to increase female representation and presented evidence of wage discrimination both before and after the strike of October 1975.
After the strike was proposed, a meeting was organised in August 1975 to devise a plan of action. They wrote to many leading Icelandic women's societies and trade unions and in gaining a solid backing from the unions, many women were able to approach their workplaces for support. The organisers took advantage of any media attention to publicly expose the low pay and sex discrimination facing women in the workplace. Despite this, many men still thought little of the strike and felt it would blow over.
On the morning of October 24th 1975, 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work or take on domestic duties for the entire day and took to the streets in protest of their unequal treatment in society. Strikes took place all over the country bringing together women from all different political and economic backgrounds with the main strike held at the Downtown Square in Reykjavik involving 25000 protesters. Throughout the entire day the women took part in marches, sang, discussed political issues and listened to speeches. A wide variety of speakers including housewives, Members of Parliament, representatives of the women's movement and female workers gave speeches throughout the day. The final speech was given by Aðalheiður Bjarnfreðsdóttir, whose primary focus was on the low-paid and working-class women.
As Vigdis stated in a 2015 interview with the BBC, the strike “completely paralysed the country and opened the eyes of many men.' Many men were shocked at their action, meaning they were woefully underprepared to look after their children in the absence of their wives. Many were forced to bring their children to work with them in light of the mostly female-run nurseries also being shut for the day. Vigdis recalls this, 'We heard children playing in the background while the newsreaders read the news on the radio, it was a great thing to listen to, knowing that the men had to take care of everything'. Men in rural areas where women were expected to take care of the children in the home were forced to take the day off of work. It is reported that various shops sold out of sausages that day as this was all the majority of men were able to cook. Along with nurseries, many banks, shops, and schools were also forced to close. As female bank tellers left their stations, their executives were left with no other choice but to leave their offices and take over in the women’s absences. Following a lack of flight attendants, airlines found themselves cancelling flights. For many men, this was “a baptism of fire” and the reason the “Women’s Day Off” was also coined the name the “Long Friday”.
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