Women walk out in Iceland to strike against the gender pay gap. There’s a lesson for the US

News Organization

USA Today

Publication Date

24 October 2023

Publication Author

Nicole Fallert

From classrooms to corporate offices to household cleaning, women across Iceland walked away from work − both paid and unpaid − Tuesday to demand improvements to unequal pay and gender-based violence.

The “kvennafrí”, or women’s day off, emphasizes the power of women’s work, from the executive chair to household cleaning.

When women aren’t there to work, who really pays?

“What’s happening in Iceland is a visible demonstration of women’s labor,” Amy Diehl, a gender equity researcher and author of “GLASS WALLS: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work.” With women on strike, men are left to “pick up the pieces,” she told USA TODAY.

“(The strike) sends a very strong signal to what women do,” Diehl said. “When work is underpaid or not paid at all, it’s just taken for granted and is unseen. The benefit of this strike is it makes this kind of labor visible − the women’s labor that’s often taken for granted.”

Iceland, a Northern European nation with a population of 380,000, is the only nation to have closed more than 90% of the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum, and has held the top spot in gender parity for 14 years in a row.

According to the 2023 Global Gender Gap Index, no country has yet achieved full gender parity. The United States ranks 43 out of 146 countries in the index and experts say America is trailing countries like Iceland in terms of policies such as paid family leave, employer accountability, increased minimum wage, or promoting union representation to establish fair bargaining power.

With a far larger population that is geographically, racially and economically diverse than Iceland, how is the U.S. ever supposed to catch up?

“The statistics can hide what’s going on at the individual level,” Diehl said, meaning even if America meets the right gender equality indicators to close the gap, there’s no guarantee the benefits will be realized homogenously among women and other marginalized groups, experts said.

“It is a more complex issue in the United States,” said Ann Warner, interim CEO at the International Center for Research on Women. “Gender is one important facet of the pay gap … When we look at the intersection between gender and race, we see those gaps widen even more.”