Excuse us while we plan out a move to Iceland…
Let us explain exactly why the Nordic country is a desired destination for us: they have officially become the first country to make equal pay legal. Sure many countries have some type of equal pay legislation as policy, including the US where there is both federal and state-level laws on the books, but Iceland’s new law takes things to a whole new level.
It went into effect Monday, Jan 1st, 2018 and stipulates that companies and government agencies employing at least 25 people will have to obtain government certification of their equal-pay policies. Those that don’t adhere to the law will pay a fine. Although the World Economic Forum has ranked Iceland as the best nation on earth in terms of gender equality for the past 9 years, it seems there are still areas where improvements are needed, and they are working on it.
“The legislation is basically a mechanism that companies and organizations … evaluate every job that’s being done, and then they get a certification after they confirm the process if they are paying men and women equally. It’s a mechanism to ensure women and men are being paid equally. We have had legislation saying that pay should be equal for men and women for decades now but we still have a pay gap,” said Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind, a board member of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association to Al Jazeera.
As CNN Money points out, the new rules don’t mean that companies must pay everyone doing the same job the exact same salary. Employers still have the option of rewarding their workers based on experience, performance and other aspects. However, the companies must show that the differences in wages are not due to gender.
It should come as no surprise that Iceland has passed such a law especially considering nearly 50% of all parliament members are women. The law was supported by the center-right government as well as the opposition, showing how non-partisan equal pay is there (and how it should be elsewhere in the world).
As Judd Legum from ThinkProgress says, a law like this is the result of having a high number of women elected to government. By comparison, women make up less than 20% of US Congress, and although we have existing laws such as the Equal Pay Act, there is nothing near the same level as Iceland’s law.
“The United States ranks 49th, just ahead of Kazakhstan but behind Uganda. American women earn about 83% of what men earn in 2015…The United States ranks 96th in political empowerment of women, behind Nepal, Algeria and Pakistan,” writes Judd.
Iceland’s government vowed to completely close its gender gap by 2022 and they are on their way to doing this. Women’s rights activists deserve a lot of credit for the country’s progress in the way of gender equality and they still have work to do, given Icelandic women were paid 78.5% of men’s total employment income in 2014, according to the country’s welfare ministry.
In October 2016, thousands of women left work two hours early for one day to protest the wage gap, saying that according to the pay scale, they should be finished work by 2:38pm in a typical 9-5 workday. They met in the center of Austurvollur square in the capital city of Reykjavik, chanting “kvennafrí” which means “women’s rights”. This wasn’t the first time women left work to protest the wage gap. As the Atlantic reports, there is a rich history of women effectively protesting to change laws.
“Plus, since women’s-rights organizations and labor unions in Iceland have organized the demonstration in the past, we can actually measure, in minutes, the country’s advances on pay equity. On October 24, 2005, women in Iceland left work at 2:08 PM. On October 24, 2010, they departed at 2:25,” wrote Uri Friedman.
However, the first major protest of this kind took place back in 1975, when 90% of all Icelandic women went on strike to campaign for equal rights. The event was a turning point for the country, as the fathers and men of the country had to step in to the women’s role during that time. The protest was so huge that banks, shops and factories had to shut down, and fathers ended up taking their children to work as they had no choice. This protest also led to Iceland electing its first female president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who also became the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world in 1980.
They have been a leader of “firsts” on a number of levels in government. In 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the world’s first openly lesbian world leader, and the first female world leader to wed a same-sex partner while in office. And in November 2017, Iceland elected Katrin Jakobsdottir, 41, and environmental activist and chairperson of the Left-Green Movement as the new Prime Minister. She is Iceland’s second female prime minister, after Johanna Sigurdardottir, who took the post in 2009.
Katrin is said to be the country’s most trusted politician, after financial scandals plagued the government in recent years. Along with her commitment to climate change issues, gender equality is also high on her list. And now with the new equal pay law, we have no doubt Iceland will continue to lead by example for the rest of the world.