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Icelandic women including PM on 24-hour strike over gender inequality

Icelandic women went on a 24-hour strike on Tuesday over gender inequality, including the prime minister, who said the fight for equal treatment was moving far too slowly at home and abroad.

Across the small island nation, schools and libraries were either closed or operated on limited hours as female staff stayed home, while hospitals said they would only handle emergency cases.

Joining the protest, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said she would not come to work on Tuesday.

“Looking at the whole world, it could take 300 years to achieve gender equality,” Jakobsdottir told the Ras 1 public radio station.

The strike was called to protest against gaps in pay when compared to men and against gender-based violence, and to highlight the unpaid work such as such as child care that most often falls on women, organisers said.

Iceland is regarded as one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of gender equality and has topped the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index 14 years in a row.

But in some industries and professions, women earn at least 20 per cent less than Icelandic men, according to Statistics Iceland.

Forty percent of Icelandic women experience gender-based and sexual violence in their lifetime, a University of Iceland study found.

“We’re seeking to bring attention to the fact that we’re called an equality paradise, but there are still gender disparities and urgent need for action,” said Freyja Steingrimsdottir, a strike organiser and the communications director for the Icelandic Federation for Public Workers.

Tuesday’s strike, under the slogan “Do you call this equality?”, comprising Icelandic women and non-binary individuals, was the first full-day strike since an inaugural women’s protest in 1975.

“Female-led professions such as healthcare services and childcare are still undervalued and much lower paid,” Steingrimsdottir told Reuters on Monday.

(Published 24 October 2023, 14:20 IST)

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