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The day women shut down Iceland

The strike that helped narrow the gender pay gap in Iceland.

Halley Brown is an associate producer on the Vox video team and works on research for the Missing Chapter series. She joined Vox in 2021 as part of the Vox Fellowship Program and her reporting has been recognized by the Online Journalism Awards multiple times since then.

Iceland has made significant progress toward closing its gender pay gap in the past 50 years. In 1975, Icelandic women made around 40 percent less than what men made. Today, that number is around 10 percent, making Iceland one of the few countries in the world where women are paid almost as much as men.

To understand how Iceland managed this, you have to take a look at what happened almost 50 years ago. In 1970, a radical feminist group called the Redstockings formed in response to outdated ideas in Iceland surrounding issues like violence against women, reproductive rights, and women’s labor. The Redstockings were known for their loud and public demonstrations, and in 1975 they proposed their biggest idea yet: a women’s strike, a day when women would collectively refuse to work at home and in the office to prove their economic worth to society.

The idea was divisive at first, but slowly, women from different political backgrounds got on board. To make the idea more accessible, they changed the name to “Women’s Day Off,” or “Kvennafrí,” and planned the strike from the ground up. It was a massive success. An estimated 90 percent of Icelandic women refused to work that day, and it shut down the country. Flights were canceled without flight attendants, and schools were closed without teachers. Men had to bring children to work because there was no child care at home.

The effects of Kvennafrí were felt across the country. Iceland quickly passed its first Gender Equality Act and soon after elected its first female president — the world’s first woman president to be elected democratically. In this episode of Missing Chapter, we talk with one of the women who helped plan the strike and walk through how Icelandic women shut down their country.

You can find this video and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.

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