1975 Icelandic women's strike
On October 24, 1975, Icelandic women went on strike for the day to “demonstrate the indispensable work of women for Iceland’s economy and society” and to “protest wage discrepancy and unfair employment practices.” Participants, led by women’s organizations, did not go to their paid jobs and did not do any housework or child-rearing for the whole day. Ninety percent of Iceland’s female population participated in the strike.
Icelandic women who worked outside of the home before 1975 earned less than sixty percent of what men earned. Many other women were not able to acquire jobs since they did most or all of the housework and childrearing in the home.
The United Nations announced that 1975 was going to be International Women’s Year. Five major Icelandic women’s rights organizations sent representatives to form a committee that planned events for the year. A representative from a women’s group called the Redstockings put forward the idea of a strike as one of the events. The committee decided to call the strike a “day off” since they thought that this term was more pleasant and would be more effective in engaging the masses. As well, some women could have been fired for going on strike but could not be denied a day off.
Women’s organizations spread the word about the Day Off throughout the country. The Day Off event organizers got radio stations, television, and newspapers to run stories about sex-based discrimination and lower wages for women. The event garnered international attention.
Women’s Day Off
On October 24, 1975, Icelandic women did not go to their paid jobs nor did they do any housework or child-rearing at home. Ninety percent of women took part, including women in rural communities. Many industries shut down for the day as a result. There was no telephone service and newspapers were not printed since the typesetters were all women. Theatres shut down for the day as actresses refused to work. The majority of teachers were women so schools either closed or “operated at limited capacity.” Flights got cancelled since the flight attendants did not come into work and bank executives had to work as tellers to keep the banks open on this day. Fish factories were closed since the factory workers were primarily women.
During the Day Off, twenty-five thousand women out of two hundred twenty thousand people in Iceland gathered in the center of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, for a rally. At the rally, women listened to speakers, sang, and talked to each other about what could be done to achieve gender equality in Iceland. There were many speakers, including a housewife, two members of parliament, a representative of the women’s movement, and a female worker. The last speech of the day was by Aðalheiður Bjarnfreðsdóttir, who “represented Sókn, the trade union for the lowest paid women in Iceland.”
Employers prepared for the day without women by buying sweets, pencils, and paper to entertain the kids who would be brought into work by their fathers. Men were forced to take their children to work and feed them since all of the daycares were closed. As a result, sausages, a popular meal, sold out in many stores that day.
The strike lasted until midnight that night, at which time the typesetters went back to work to put out the newspaper. It was not as long as usual and only consisted of articles related to the strike.
The women achieved their goal of showing Iceland their value by essentially shutting down the country for a day. The Day Off “opened the eyes of many men” who referred to it as “the long Friday.”
The next year, “Iceland’s parliament passed a law guaranteeing equal rights for women and men.” Although this 1976 law “did little to change wage inequality and disparity in wages and employment for women”, it was a large political step towards true equality. The strikers had achieved their goal and demonstrated the undeniable importance of women and their hard work in Iceland. The strike also paved the way for the election of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first democratically elected female president in the world five years later in 1980.
Every ten years on the anniversary of the Day Off, women stop work early to “demonstrate their important positions and continue the struggle for equality.” In 1975 the women strikers left work at 2:05pm, and in 2005 they left at 2:08pm, reflecting the tiny progress made in 30 years. Increasing the frequency of strikes, in 2010 they left work at 2:25pm and in 2016 at 2:38pm, with many women taking part in the Viking Clap outside the Althing.
- "Icelandic women strike for economic and social equality, 1975 | Global Nonviolent Action Database". Global Nonviolent Action Database. Swarthmore College. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
- "The day the women went on strike". The Guardian. 2005-10-18. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
- Brewer, Kirstie (23 October 2015). "The day Iceland's women went on strike - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
- Else Mia Einarsdottir and Gerdur Steinhtorsdottir (1977). "The Day the children came to the offices". Scandinavian Review (3): 60–64.
- "Icelandic women cut working day to protest wage gap". France24. 25 October 2016.
- "Black Monday: Polish women strike against abortion ban". BBC News. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2016-12-13.