A Mighty Girl

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A Mighty Girl

On this day in 1975, in a remarkable display of solidarity and determination, Iceland’s women went on strike for equal rights. They refused to go to their jobs, do housework, or perform childcare, all to show the importance of women in their society. Incredibly, 90% of women in Iceland participated in the strike. Of those, 25,000 women — almost 12% of Iceland’s population at the time — took to the streets of Reykjavik in a demonstration while other protests were held in towns across the country. The historic strike was called Women’s Day Off and it’s gone down in Icelandic history as the beginning of a dramatic change in the status of women — and the first step toward Iceland becoming “the world’s most feminist country.”

Although the right of Icelandic women to vote was recognized in 1915, by 1975, there were still only three sitting female Members of Parliament, less than 5%. Across the country, women faced discrimination at work, including lower pay and fewer job opportunities. The progress being made in other Nordic countries, where women held 16 to 23% of parliamentary seats and had more recourse against discrimination, was frustrating women’s right activists in Iceland. A women’s group called the Red Stockings was the first to propose a strike, but it was initially considered too confrontational by many. After the event was renamed the Women’s Day Off and framed in such a way as to show the many ways Iceland’s women contributed to the country, it secured near universal support.

When the day of the protest came, many companies were forced to close for the day; schools and daycares kept their doors shut. Fathers ended up taking their children to work and easy to prepare foods like sausages were sold out in many grocery stores. Meanwhile, women took to the streets to listen to speeches and discuss how they could improve their nation. The majority of men were supportive of the effort: Styrmir Gunnarsson, who was the co-editor of the conservative paper Morgunbladid at the time, said, “I do not think that I have ever supported a strike but I did not see this action as a strike. It was a demand for equal rights… it was a positive event.” He added that “Probably most people underestimated this day’s impact at that time — later both men and women began to realize that it was a watershed.”

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir says her life was particularly changed by the Women’s Day Off — she would go on to become Europe’s first female president in 1980, a move she insists could not have happened without the protest. “What happened that day was the first step for women’s emancipation in Iceland,” she explained. “It completely paralyzed the country and opened the eyes of many men… Things went back to normal the next day, but with the knowledge that women are as well as men the pillars of society. So many companies and institutions came to a halt and it showed the force and necessity of women — it completely changed the way of thinking.”

The impact of the changes that this show of power by women helped foster are obvious in Iceland today — women now hold 41% of the seats in parliament and the country has been ranked number one in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for seven years in a row. For her part, Finnbogadóttir, who served as Iceland’s president for 16 years, will always look back with fondness on that historic day when women stood together: “There was a tremendous power in it all and a great feeling of solidarity and strength among all those women standing on the square in the sunshine.”

To read more about Iceland’s Women’s Day Off on the BBC, visit http://bbc.in/1RrO571

One of our favorite t-shirts features a quote which fits these women perfectly: “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History” — it’s available for all ages at http://www.amightygirl.com/well-behaved-women-history-shirt

For an excellent new book about 40 pioneering women who challenged their societies’ limitations on women, we highly recommend “Rad Women Worldwide” for ages 10 and up at http://www.amightygirl.com/rad-women-worldwide

To introduce young readers to 26 pioneering women who were determined to change the world, check out “Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World” for ages 7 to 12 at http://www.amightygirl.com/amelia-to-zora

And, for more books for children and teens about trailblazing female role models who didn’t let social conventions hold them back, visit A Mighty Girl’s “Role Model Biography” section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/history-biography/biography

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