Women walk off the job, normal life stops

Why did 60,000 women in Iceland quit working in the middle of the afternoon on Monday?

Published October 25, 2005 10:43PM (EDT)

Last Monday, Iceland found out what happens if women just stop working as some 60,000 women took to the streets in a protest dubbed Women's Day Off.

That's a lot of protesters by any measure, but it's really stunning when you consider that Iceland only has a total population of about 296,000. In Reykjavik, where 50,000 women reportedly participated, the city shut down early with banks, shops, kindergartens, embassies and government offices all closing, according to the Times. Women banged pots and pans as they marched, chanting "Equality now!" Many fathers took their children to work with them.

The protest began at 2:08 p.m., after 64.15 percent of the standard 9-to-5 workday had passed. According to the protesters' Web site, women in Iceland still make 64.15 percent of what men do. Among the other inspirations listed on the protest's site: "Having children has a negative effect on womens salary, but a positive effect on mens"; "a woman has never been prime minister, bank manager or bishop"; and, simply, "women are not treated as equal to men." Monday's action also commemorated the historic protest 30 years ago when women in Iceland refused to work, including cooking and caring for children.

This time around, the protest had more official support than the one 30 years ago that shocked the nation. Monday, even the mayor of Reykjavik herself, Steinunn Valdis Oskarsdottir, encouraged city hall workers to join the walkout, and she requested that other employers be sympathetic to the protest as well.

"I would ask that employers in Iceland respect the wishes of women who wish to leave work at this time," she said. Women in Iceland have made some achievements, but theres still a long way to go. I hope that this day will encourage men in this country to think about why women are still getting paid less than men in this country." Pledging to put her own house in order, the mayor of Reykjavik also promised to study the issue in city government, and remedy any inequities.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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