Iceland: Ways For Gender Equality
Iceland is fundamentally opposed to not only the national but also the global execution of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are incorporated into the government’s social, economic and environmental agenda, with significant interest in maintaining a civilized and just community, free of fear and aggression. Iceland has been the most gender-equal country in the world for almost a decade. Being a woman in Iceland is fortuitous in comparison to other countries. Iceland was the first to elect a woman president explicitly. Approximately half of the country’s corporation executives are female, and postpartum leave as well as the existence of first-class nursery helps assure that almost 4 women out of five are presumably employed. As for the essence of advancement of gender equality, problems and challenges were encountered in order to achieve the standard of gender equality in Iceland. In response to natural disasters and significant population relocation to North America, Iceland witnessed numerous cultural, political and economic transitions during the 19th century. The conflict of improved women’s human rights took shape during this time span. This has been the case for almost two decades, with Experts pointed to women’s prospects for corporate and political recognition, Gender segregated workforce and pay gap between men and women and the need for more experience in dealing with social coercion of all sexes, not only females.
Despite having a relatively equal status, women did not have the opportunity to vote or to be constituted in the parliament of Iceland, the oldest in parliament the world. Eventually women started demanding for the right to be decent enough. In 1902 improvements culminated in a slow progress; in 1908, not only women with voting rights started to gain local suffrage and entitled to hold local office but also four women were appointed to the Reykjavik City Council. In the following year, for local elections, all women in Iceland gain the right to vote or run for office. In 1914 and 1915, they partially succeeded as the legal right to be Protestant priests were given to women and subsequently, voting rights and to participate as political candidates. There was, however, a great discrepancy between the liberal, growth of rights-based legislation and the predominant cultural norms and societal perception which held men in their high position enjoying their ‘first-mover advantage’ and women appeared to be hindered. This situation persisted until a large group of educated women entered the fortifications enclosing the palaces of knowledge, the academy, and in the 1960s and 1970s feminist movement became a popular movement that united women in their conflict for equality and influenced politics. In October 2016, the last parliamentary election took place. This time it was uncommon for the previous government to operate until April 2017, but large protests urged the government to initiate a new election earlier than usual. The election resulted in Parliament’s largest number of women in history; within three parties, women were the majority: Bright Future, the Progressive Party, and the Green Left Party. Nevertheless, out of eleven possible positions, only three women were made ministers. Increasing women in local councils has been slow in the last 50 years, however the number of women in politics has increased steadily with increased dialogs and emphasis on the importance of women’s participation in politics.
An amendment to the laws on public limited companies (No. 2/1995) and private limited companies (No. 138/1994) required companies with over 50 workers to have both sexes on their company boards, in 2010 and if there are more than three members of the board, the percentage of women or men should not be below 40%. Certain improvements include alterations that will improve monitoring, such reforms came into effect in 2013. Nonetheless, there are issues that have yet to be acknowledged, especially the societal reality in which so many stereotypes are inferred toward individuals or groups based on their gender as well as their gender orientation or identity. These gender stereotypes and ideas undoubtedly cause issues including how women’s professions, such as nursing, are regarded less than men’s occupations, such as construction. Despite the existence of a law on pay equality since 1961, there is a gender pay gap for work of equal value; through a mass protest since 1975, Icelandic women have protested against this disparity.
Men’s and women’s involvement in the labour market has always been at a professional level in Iceland and women’s engagement in Iceland’s labour market is the highest among OECD countries. In the 1970s, women began to enter the labor market at a higher rate. Childcare for pre-school children, a lawful right for parents to revert back to their work after childbirth and maternity and paternity leave policy for nine months was met with this progress. As a result there is an increasing number of women with full time jobs and higher level of education. As an evidence, there is a 12% increase of women working full time between 1993 with 53% to 65% in 2008. Although men have higher percentage, 90%.This disparity illustrates the different situation of women and men in work and private life, not least the fact that women are still responsible for most domestic work and care. The overall participation rate among women was just under 80 percent, while among men it was about 86 percent in the last decade.
The number of people employed declined in the aftermath of the economic crisis, marking the end of an era of tremendous employment rate and economic growth. The developments since the recession have shown a rise in the unemployment rate for both women and men. The unemployment rate in 2007 was 1 percent; it hit 4.8 percent at the end of 2008 and peaked at 9.3 percent at the beginning of 2010. In December 2010, there was 7.3 percent unemployed women and 8.5 percent unemployed men. Men’s unemployment was lower in 2010 than in 2009, but higher in 2010 than in 2009 for women. When looking at individuals outside the labour market, there are also very significant gender differences. According to Statistics Iceland’s 2010 labour market survey, 1900 individuals are classified as homemakers, of which 1800 are women and 100 men. 1200 women were on unpaid maternity leave in 2010 for up to 13 weeks. Resolving the gender pay gap is indeed a crucial issue in the government’s gender equality programme. Iceland has had an Equal Pay Act for Equal Work since 1961. Regardless of the law, in 2008 the gender pay gap was still 16.3 percent generally and in rural areas it was up to 38 percent.
The 2008 recession resulted in decreased pay gap, as the depression initially hit markets where men’s work is more dominant (Gíslason, 2011). The gender pay gap perceived issues include: gender differentiated jobs, extra salary increases go to males, women’s representation in organizational and institutional leadership is negligible, women’s work is regarded differently than men’s work, private-sector competitiveness, and women’s propensity to under appreciate their own job. Increasing the number of women on boards and as managers of companies and organizations is one of the major challenges ahead. Studies has shown the need to define the values of gender equality in organizational and administrative pay practices and standardize work performance. In fact, under the segment on wage discrimination, a new article has been introduced to the law allowing the secretary to attach regulations on the insertion of that section, including the enforcement of wage discrimination standards. Despite the improvement in women’s education, the labour market remains incredibly stratified between sexes. In the public sector, majority of the workers are women, essentially teaching, care-taking and other services, whilst in the private sector, more men are involved throughout manufacturing, fisheries and have most of the top financial roles, despite the fact that numerous young men ignores education.
In a 1997 research (Gíslason) that examined the responses of Icelandic men regarding issues of gender, the result was that men generally have a positive attitude to gender equality and agree that women and men have same rights and opportunities. Nevertheless, when reflecting at behaviour towards household duties and raising children, it was deemed women’s duty. Many positive changes in perceptions and engagement was illustrated in research carried as one of the EC-funded FOCUS project (Fostering Caring Masculinities, 2006), while women were still to a greater extent liable for all housework than men apart from repairing the house as well as the vehicle. Generally, the law on parental leave in 2000 seemed to have a significant effect, at least to the extent that more Icelandic fathers were participating in caring for and nurturing their children. A research on youth’s behavior towards gender equality in 2014 reveals that young men still have a rather timid view of housework and caregiving; however, their views progressed in 2006 in similar research.
Historically and still today, the fight for women rights is not about good or bad men per se; rather everything is about use and misuse of authority and power, particularly transforming a system where a culture of privilege dominates above a culture of responsibility for violence. Throughout Iceland as well as other mainly Western countries at the period, laws banning sexual harassment was implemented. But the prevalent culture of patriarchal privilege and power ensured that given the legal prohibition, sexual predators tended to be shielded by people alike , who were either complicit in their offenses by suppressing the perpetrators or by labeling them, accusing them or insulting them.
Parliament ratified a statute (No. 85/2011) in 2011, which strengthens the regulations that governments need to defend victims of violence in close relations. The law sets requirements for the expulsion from the residence of the alleged offender of domestic abuse and the enforcement of a formal restraining order if there is a presumption of domestic violence. Althingi endorsed a law in 2014 (No. 62/2014) focused on improving some parts of the actual gender equality law (No. 10/2008). The legislation was made in the context of comments made by the supervisory body EFTA, which implied that the gender equality policy did not reflect a properly worded description of terms such as direct and indirect harassment, gender discrimination or sexual harassment.
A comprehensive research program was conducted as part of the Action Plan on Violence against Women (2006-2011) to determine the severity and nature of violence towards women in close relationships. The study consisted of six elements that included a telephone survey of 3,000 women aged 18-80 and five qualitative surveys which examined the following areas: municipal social services, child protection, pre- and primary education, health services, police and civil society. Results of the study provide vital information on this topic, providing services and identifying gaps. For stakeholders and service providers that contribute aid or services to victims of gender-based violence, there are still several obstacles. Those obstacles include: the need for more extensive knowledge, standardized patient reporting, standard data analysis, more staff training, better stakeholder responsibilities and interactions among stakeholders as well their cooperation and improve services.
A 2015 study found that about half of the women (50.4 percent) were exposed to a certain form of sexual harassment in the service industry and 26.4 percent of them are men. Many research has found that there is more incidence of sexual violence against women with disabilities than originally thought. However, harassment is very often suppressed and that there is no appropriate legal and perhaps even therapeutic support offered for the victims. On a brighter side, the prosecution of domestic violence has made substantial improvement. Ninety-four percent of cases reported to the authorities were reduced in 2010, and that figure plummeted to 3 percent in 2015. This is indeed an outcome of the ‘ Keeping the Window Open Project ‘ and updated laws that make it necessary for officers to physically evict offenders from residences or grant criminal convictions.
To conclude, Iceland had shown that there are several obstacles to have been encountered to accomplishing gender equality which might appear difficult to eliminate; nevertheless, the challenges are therefore not impossible to manage with the will of the government as well as the community. In general, equality between men and women does not appear to be coming in on its own. The latter involves women’s collective action and unity, political commitment and resources such as laws, gender financial management and quotas.
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