Even in Iceland, the country many experts consider the world’s leader in gender equity, the gender pay gap persists. Women employees make 14 to 18 percent less than men in Iceland — a discrepancy that unions and women’s organizations say means women effectively work for free after 2:38 p.m. On Monday, in protest of the pay gap, thousands of Icelandic women decided to work the hours their pay merited — by leaving their workplaces promptly when the clock struck 2:38.
“[Iceland] is a good place to be a woman,” says Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who in 1980 became Iceland’s president and, in so doing, the world’s first democratically elected woman president. Things weren’t always so clear cut, however. Before October 24, 1975, when 90 percent of Iceland’s women went on strike — refusing to work, cook, or even provide childcare — only nine women had ever won seats in the country’s parliament. Just five years later, Finnbogadottir was elected. By 1999, more than a third of the country’s MPs were women. And in 2000, Iceland’s government passed a landmark parental leave legislation that many credit with helping women to return to work, and their former hours, more quickly after childbirth. Today, 90 percent of Icelandic fathers take parental leave — and research has shown that they continue to be involved in housework and childcare even after the leave is over.
The pay gap, however, has been slow to close — should the gap continue to shrink at the current rate, it would take 52 years before men and women were being paid equally. While explanations for the discrepancy vary, women and Icelandic leadership alike agree that the progress is too slow.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a gender pay gap or any other pay gap,” said Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labor. “It’s just unacceptable to say we’ll correct this in 50 years. That’s a lifetime.”
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