WIP Study Trip to Iceland – What can be learned from the country’s experience?

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Img 7218 Scaled

The WIP Study Trip to Iceland was a successful learning exercise about the global leader in gender equality. International female Parliamentarians coming from more than 20 countries had the opportunity to meet the President, the Prime Minister, Members of the Government and Members of the Parliament of Iceland during the 2-days Study Trip in Reykjavík (3-4 April).

Three milestones in the history of Iceland were essentially mentioned during the Study Trip:

  • “Imagine that one quarter of your country’s population takes a day off; that happened here in 1975,” said Eygló Harðardóttir, Minister of Social Affairs and Housing, about the impact of the Women’s Strike (24 October 1975). More than 25.000 women took a day off to emphasize the importance of women’s contribution to the society. As a result the society as a whole came to a halt.
  • “I had the responsibility to prove that a woman could do it,” said the former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, first female President democratically elected in Iceland and in the world (1980) who opened the way for many women around the world. President Vigdís received the “WIP Award for Lifetime Achievements in Female Political Empowerment” during the Study Trip.
  • “A new party made a difference for gender equality in Iceland, and this was the Women’s Alliance,” emphasized the former Speaker of the Parliament, Ásta Jóhannesdóttir about an all-women political party founded in 1983. This party succeeded in breaking the male dominance in politics in Iceland and increasing the female representation.

Today, 39.7% of the Icelandic MPs are women. Although this is one of the highest percentages in the world, the 2013’s elections are seen as a step back for the women political empowerment in Iceland (before the elections, 43% of the MPs were women). “A higher number of women in decision-making positions will not only change politics but it will change the world,” argued Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, Minister of the Interior.

The Icelandic laws which have contributed to closing the gender gap in the country were widely discussed with the local politicians and the female CEOs of the companies Rio Tinto Alcan, Actavis, Steinunn and Lýsi. “Maybe not everything can be copied by other countries, but there are lessons that we can take away from Iceland,” defended Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, Minister of Industry and Commerce, who hosted the visits to the local companies.

  • The Icelandic parental leave scheme was highlighted several times as one of the key legislations to advance in gender equality. The scheme consists of 9 months of paid parental leave: each parent has 3-months leave -not transferable- and they can divide other 3 months as they like. According to the Icelandic politicians, more women are in the labour market now because the risk of hiring a man or a woman is more equal.
  • “A lot of Icelanders have changed their minds about quotas in company boards,” said Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir. Iceland passed a new law that obligates companies to have a minimum of 40% of women or men in their boards in 2010. The impact of this legislation, which took effect on 1 September 2013, is the increase of women leaders in business.

Despite ranking number one in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2013, the Icelandic politicians stated that they are not yet there. “We need to break the glass ceiling over and over again,” said Katrin Juliusdottir, former Minister of Industry, who had twins during her mandate. Inequalities like the gender pay gap and the gender pension gap are some of the old new problems to be tackled during the next years; while monitoring the effect of the new legislations like the gender quotas in companies.