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Newspaper coverage of the Women's Day Off in 1975

Newspaper coverage of the Women's Day Off in 1975

June 27, 2022

Women's Day Off: The Fight for Equality in Iceland

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History of Iceland’s Women’s Day Off

The United Nations designated 1975 as International Women’s Year, “observed to remind the international community that discrimination against women continued to be a persistent problem in much of the world.”[1] The women of Iceland chose to observe the year with fervor and set the course for the passage of legislation for greater equality in Iceland by going on strike on Oct. 24, 1975.

The idea for the “strike” was formed during the first Women’s Congress in Iceland in June earlier that year where the five largest women’s organizations in Iceland gathered in Reykjavik to discuss common issues.[2] Women were being paid 60 percent less for the same work that men were paid, and were not being recognized for the contributions they made as homemakers. [3] The Red Stockings, a feminist organization formed in 1970, suggested that women go on strike. [4] Women would take to the streets to demand equality, but instead of calling it a “strike” which was deemed to be too radical of a term for most and could result in women losing their jobs, they would refer to it as a “day off.”[5] By the end of the Congress, a formal motion for the “day off” was passed. Thus, the Women's Day Off (Kvennafrí) came to be.[6] 

What happened that day was the first step for women's emancipation in Iceland. It completely paralyzed the country and opened the eyes of many men.
Vigdis Finnbogadottir

On that day, 90 percent of the female population in Iceland didn’t show up for work, didn’t change a dirty diaper, didn’t pick up an iron, or step into the kitchen.[7] The day has been referred to as the “Long Friday” by many men, because it was the first time they had to take care of their children and do household tasks like cleaning and cooking, and it was found to be a very long day.[8] Businesses had to close because men had to stay home with their children since many facilities such as schools were closed due to the lack of workforce that day.[9]

We heard children playing in the background while the newsreaders read the news on the radio; it was a great thing to listen to, knowing that the men had to take care of everything.
Vigdis Finnbogadottir

Impact of the Women’s Day Off

The strike had a significant impact on the women and men in Iceland. Not only did men have a greater awareness of the positive impact that women had on the economy, but women also gained confidence to take on more leadership roles. In 1976, a law was passed that banned “wage discrimination on the basis of gender.” [10] More women became involved in politics, and in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected president in Iceland, becoming the first female president in any democracy in the world. “A great deal of money was invested in child care, and in 2013 a quota was introduced for women business leaders in companies employing more than 50 people.” [11]

Since 1975, Icelandic women have gone on strike five more times—in 1985, 2005, 2010, 2016 and 2018—always on Oct. 24. Starting in 2005, the strikes began at the time that women would stop being paid. In other words, they leave at a certain time “to express the time by which they could have earned their wage if they were paid as much as men were.” [12] In 2005, they walked off the job at 2:08 p.m., in 2010 at 2:25 p.m., in 2016 at 2:38 p.m., and in 2018 at 2:55 p.m. [13]

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Discussion Questions

  • Why did women in Iceland choose to go on strike?
  • Why was the strike so impactful?
  • What are some of the lasting impacts from the Women’s Day Off?
  • Why is it important to fight for women’s rights?
  • What impact do you think a Women’s Day Off would have in the U.S.?

Additional Resources

Megan Ortmeyer

Megan Ortmeyer is an SML Team Member and has worked in the AFT Educational Issues Department since fall 2018. She received her M.A. in education policy studies in May 2020 from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.

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