Women’s representation in the Icelandic Parliament, the Althing, has increased radically over the last three decades. In 2009, women finally broke the so-called glass ceiling in the Althing. The number of women elected to parliament went from 20 to 27, or from 32% of parliament to 43%. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first woman to serve as prime minister in 2009. Women made up 41,3% of parliament in 2014. Iceland reached this high percentage without the use of gender quotas, which are not mandated by legislation and are utilized only by some parties.
Gender Pay Gap
The pay gap still exists in Iceland and is measured from 6-16% depending on occupational categories. Recent figures and surveys show that the gap increased between 2013 and 2016 in some sectors as financial institutions and in the municipalities outside Reykjavik.
Despite of this, women’s participation in the labour market in Iceland is among the highest in the world. In 2013, a new Equal Pay Standard was created by the Icelandic Standards, a radically new ISO standard meant to guarantee equal pay for equivalent work within companies.
One of the reasons for the high participation of women in the labour market is generally considered to be the Icelandic parents leave. The Icelandic parents leave is nine months, three of which are dedicated to the mother and three to the father. The remaining three months are free, and both or either parent can use those three months as they wish. About 90% of Icelandic fathers make use of their leave at least to some extent. This arrangement is considered to play an important role in creating a gender balanced labour market and to increase the equal responsibilities of the mother and father of child upbringing and the household.
Despite of this, the number of parental leave days taken by father sharply decreased from 2010, when the ceiling for the amount of disbursements paid by the Parental Leave Fund was lowered. Moreover, the fact that parents are only guaranteed 9 months of parental leave, and children are only guaranteed daycare from the age of two adversely affect the status of women in the labour market and in the society, as the care of children between the expiration of the parental leave and the start of daycare is often assumed by mothers.
Icelandic Equality Legislation
In the past few years, new laws have been enacted which impact gender equality in Iceland. In 2008, a comprehensive gender equality legislation was passed, which increased the responsibility of the state to guard against gender inequality in the public arena. All companies with 25 employees or more are now required to have a gender equality policy, and the Centre for Gender Equality is allowed to fine companies which have not put such a policy in place. The Ministry of Welfare is now required to host a large conference every two years dedicated to gender equality, where participants from both the private and public sector can exchange stories and experience. And for the past two years, the Icelandic government has worked to organize a new way to plan the budget. The budget of 2012 will be the first Icelandic budget based on gender responsive budgeting.
Overall, the 2008 Gender Equality Act is in compliance with CEDAW’s stipulations. However, gender equality measures could be strengthened further. In particular, the Centre for Gender Equality is unable to adequately fulfill many responsibilities, due to budget constraints, lack of staff and inconvenient location.
A gender quota was first enacted in 2008. All committees formed by public institutions, municipalities or the Icelandic state are now required have a ratio of men and women no lower than 40/60. In 2008, 43% of government committees were in compliance with this gender quota. The percentage rose to 76 % in 2014.
In 2010 a new law was passed which expanded the gender quota on committees to the private sector. Starting in 2013, companies with more than 50 employees were required to have at least 40% of their board members of either gender. However, in Iceland only 296 companies have more than 50 employees, while 26.505 have less and therefore are not required to use gender quota. Despite of this, the legislation claims that companies and institutions with 25 employees or more are required to adopt gender equality plans or mainstream gender equality into their personnel policy.
Legislation and Prostitution
The criminal legislation has changed in the past few years. In 2009 Iceland enacted the so-called “Swedish method” of dealing with prostitution. It is now illegal to buy prostitution, but selling it is not. . The defendants, fined or sentenced for the purchase of prostitution, remain anonymous. In 2010 a law was passed barring companies from profiting from the nudity of their employees. This effectively bans stripping in Iceland. These laws are both supported by the majority of the population of Iceland. There is still a lack of resources for women who want to escape prostitution, despite the fact that there are indications that the problem is increasing, especially in Reykjavik. Moreover, in 2013, the Icelandic media revealed that, despite the ban of strip clubs, several clubs in Reykjavík continued to demand the nudity of their employees, claiming that they were not employees, rather “independent contractors”. The majority of the women working at these clubs are foreign, and it is unknown whether or not they were trafficked to the country. In 2013, the Government implemented an action plan to fight human trafficking. Due to a lack of funds, the only action effectively put into place has been the education on trafficking for police, social services, health care, labour unions, NGOs and others. This action has proved to be efficient, as over 30 courses have been held and more than a thousand members of staff of the aforementioned organizations have been educated.
Women in the Judicial System
Great changes need to be made in the judicial system. At the end of 2012 women were 35% of the lower courts and at the Icelandic Supreme Court only one of nine judges was a woman. And in the beginning of 2011, there were only 66 serving female police officers in Iceland, out of a police force of 722. That means that women make up only 9% of the Icelandic police force, an inequality that impacts the dynamics of police work, how crimes are investigated and the relationship between the police and the general public. The number of women in the police force slightly increased in 2014, when 87 police officers out of 682 were women. Despite of this, women still made up less than 13% police force. The ratio of women to men in positions of authority was even lower. Out of 44 superintendents, only 1 was a woman, and out of 160 inspectors, only 8 were women. This issue needs to be addressed in the coming years.
Women in the Media
A pressing issue is the representation of women in the media. Women make up around 35% of journalists in the country, but the number of women represented in the media is much lower. The Global Media Monitoring Project studied the media output of 108 countries on November 10, 2009. This study showed that in all media in Iceland that day, print, radio and television, women were under-represented, and made up only 27% of respondents, interviewees or subjects of news attention. The GMMP in 2015 showed that the overall presence of women in the news has declined from 2009 and that women account for only 1 in 5 of the people interviewed or reported on by Icelandic news media. This number is also considerably lower than in other Nordic countries.
In June 2015, the New York artist collective Guerrilla Girls criticized Iceland‘s National Film Centre for its low funding on women‘s films. During the Gender Equality Forum in November 2015, this gender imbalance has been corrected and women receive now half of the funds of the Film Centre.
Gender Based Violence Against Women
Violence against women is still endemic in Icelandic society. In 2008, a survey of 3,000 women aged 18-80 years showed that 42% had experienced violence by men in their lifetime, 30% percent had experienced physical violence by men and 24% had experienced sexual violence by men. 4% of women had experienced violence by men during the last twelve months (autumn 2007-2008). In 2013, Reykjavík Metropolitan Police received 593 notifications on domestic disturbances in the capital, of which 438 cases were registered as conflicts and 155 as violence. As a consequence, at the beginning of 2015, the Mayor of Reykjavik and the Chief of the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police signed an agreement on joint measures to counteract domestic violence.
Regarding the legislation, The General Penal Code penalizes all forms of violence against women. The Code recognizes marital rape and female genital mutilation as a crime, as well as sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence. There is no gender specific stipulation in the General Penal Code on domestic violence, but according to Article 70 Paragraph 3, it leads to a more severe penalty if an offence is committed against a man, woman or child in a close relationship to the perpetrator, the offence, due to this relationship, being considered particularly heinous. Amendments need to be made against cyber-related crimes, such as revenge porn and internet stalking.
Who Are We?
The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association has fought for women’s rights and gender equality since 1907.
We are members of IAW, the International Alliance of Women, and EWL, the European Women’s Lobby.