A new record in protesters at Women's Strike 2023
The Icelandic Women’s Strike of 2023 is officially over and has already made headlines internationally. A record number of estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people have participated in the protest at Arnarhóll hill in Downtown Reykjavík, exceeding the numbers of previous protests.
Nearly a Third of the Icelandic Population Came Together
I did certainly not expect so many people to turn up when I stumbled upon Arnarhóll on October 24, 2023, just a little bit after 2:00 PM.
Icelandic women, foreign women, old women, non-binary people, babies, children, teenagers and supporting allies all came together on this sunny Tuesday afternoon for one reason. To protest for equal pay, against gender-based abuse, and recognition of women’s and non-binary people’s workforce, especially regarding unpaid (domestic) labour.
For this seventh Women’s Day Off, women and non-binary people all around Iceland quit working for the entire day. This has only occurred once before. In the initial strike in 1975, over 90 % of the women in Iceland went on strike and quit all work for that day. They didn’t just quit their jobs, but also their labour at home, including childcare and household chores.
A lot of companies in Iceland allowed their protesting staff to take paid time off. People working in first responder industries, like nurses, were often not able to strike yesterday.
In previous strikes in recent years, women used to walk out of their offices at a certain time which corresponded with the then-current gender pay gap. As the organisers of this year’s protest felt, imminent action was needed, they decided for another entire Women’s Day Off.
Iceland – The Paradise of Equality?
Iceland is often referred to as the most gender-equal country in the world. While this is in fact true, when referring to the Global Gender Gap Report 2023, there is still much inequality found in Iceland. A recent survey from Gallup found that Icelandic women still take care of more household chores than their male partners, who on the other hand perceive the division of labour as more equal than the women. This issue is often referred to as the “third shift”, as it does not only include the household tasks (“second shift”) but also the mental load women carry while organising and planning a household.
Another issue that was brought up at the protest was that foreign women work longer and are paid less than their Icelandic counterparts, while often dealing with exploitation and low job security at their workplace.
Additionally, gender-based sexual abuse is a big issue in Iceland, with 40% of women having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and every sixth girl in Iceland in 10th grade has been raped by a peer. While the economic gender gap has decreased over the years and currently stands at 21.4%, the parity in representation and wages among senior officials has declined since 2021.
Things might seem equal at a surface level, but there is still much left to do to achieve complete equality, for women and non-binary people; even in Iceland.
This day, October 24, 2023, is a historic day – up to 100,000 people came together and protested for the same cause, making it a day of unity and a turning point for a more equal future. If not now, when?