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Iceland’s prime minister joins thousands of women on strike

Thousands of women across Iceland – including the prime minister – went on strike Tuesday as part of a campaign pushing for greater gender equality in the country.

It marked the seventh time that women in Iceland have gone on strike in the name of gender equality, campaign organizers said on their official website. The first strike took place on October 24, 1975.

The strike, known as the “Women’s Day Off” or “Kvennafrí” in Icelandic, was organized to raise awareness about the “systemic” wage discrimination and gender-based violence faced by women in Iceland, according to organizers.

Some schools and libraries in the Scandinavian country did not open their doors on Tuesday, according to Icelandic public service broadcaster RÚV. Only one bank branch opened on the entire island, RÚV reported, warning readers that its own coverage had been reduced due to its female journalists participating in the strike. Medical clinics in the capital area were only treating emergencies during the strike, due to end at midnight local time (8 p.m. ET), according to RÚV.

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In the capital of Reykjavík, a crowd of thousands of women gathered on Tuesday afternoon on Arnarhóll, a hill next to the city center, according to RÚV.

One of the strike’s most high profile participants was the country’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who “did not attend to her official duties” on Tuesday, a spokesperson from her office told CNN.

Jakobsdóttir postponed a cabinet meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday, the spokesperson said, reiterating that she wanted to show her solidarity with Icelandic women.

Female employees who make up two thirds of staff in the Icelandic prime minister’s office all participated in the strike and did not come into work on Tuesday, the spokesperson added.

Thousands of women protest in Reykjavik, in Iceland, on Tuesday, as part of a nationwide strike to end to unequal pay and gender-based violence.  - Arni Torfason/AP
Thousands of women protest in Reykjavik, in Iceland, on Tuesday, as part of a nationwide strike to end to unequal pay and gender-based violence. - Arni Torfason/AP

During an interview with the public service broadcaster’s radio station on Tuesday, Jakobsdóttir stressed that the fight for gender equality is going too slowly. “Looking at the whole world, it could take 300 years to achieve gender equality,” she said.

“As you know, we have not yet reached our goals of full gender equality and we are still tackling the gender-based wage gap, which is unacceptable in 2023. We are still tackling gender-based violence, which has been a priority for my government to tackle,” Jakobsdóttir also told news site Iceland Monitor in an interview on Friday.

The strike was acknowledged by government departments on Tuesday, and was backed by the country’s largest federation of public workers unions, the Federation of the Public Workers Union in Iceland (BSRB), the Icelandic Nurses’ Association and the Icelandic Association of Women’s Associations, among others.

“Women in Iceland are striking today, for the 7th time since the famous #womensdayoff in 1975,” Iceland’s President Gudni Johannesson posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, accompanied by a black and white photo of a huge crowd. “Their activism for equality has changed Icelandic society for the better and continues to do so today.”

Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a tweet Tuesday: “Today we repeat the event of the first full day women’s strike since 1975, marking the day when 90% of Icelandic women took the day off from both work and domestic duties, leading to pivotal change including the world’s first female elected president of a country.”

For 14 years in a row, Iceland has been ranked the best nation for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEP), which said the country has closed 91.2% of the gender gap.

Strike organizers wanted to draw particular attention to the plight of immigrant women whose “invaluable” contribution to Icelandic society they say is “rarely acknowledged or reflected in the wages they receive.”

Jakobsdóttir’s government has previously committed to eradicating the gender pay gap by 2022.

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