Women of Iceland Protest With A Day Off: October 24, 1975

On Friday, October 24, 1975, telephone lines went down; families scrounged for food; theaters cancelled performances; even the following day’s newspaper was half its average length. On an island with just 220,000 inhabitants, the country simply could not go on without the help of women.

Wyatt and Jonah find women left and right taking the day off

The women of Iceland went on strike – they refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. It was a moment that changed the way women were seen in the country and helped put Iceland at the forefront of the fight for equality.

Banks, factories and some shops had to close, as did schools and nurseries – leaving many fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. There were reports of men arming themselves with sweets and colouring pencils to entertain the crowds of overexcited children in their workplaces. Sausages – easy to cook and popular with children – were in such demand the shops sold out.

The sun shines in Iceland as the women strike and Wyatt and Jonah inquire.

Iceland’s men were barely coping. Most employers did not make a fuss of the women disappearing but rather tried to prepare for the influx of overexcited youngsters who would have to accompany their fathers to work. Schools, shops, nurseries, fish factories and other institutions had to shut down or run at half-capacity.

Women in Iceland got the right to vote 100 years ago, in 1915 – behind only New Zealand and Finland. But over the next 60 years, only nine women took seats in parliament. In 1975 there were just three sitting female MPs, or just 5% of the parliament, compared with between 16% and 23% in the other Nordic countries, and this was a major source of frustration.

The idea of a strike was first proposed by the Red Stockings, a radical women’s movement founded in 1970, but to some Icelandic women it felt too confrontational. But when the strike was renamed “Women’s Day Off” it secured near-universal support, including solid backing from the unions.

There were one or two reports of men not behaving as Vigdis describes. The husband of one of the main speakers was reportedly asked by a co-worker, “Why do you let your woman howl like that in public places? I would never let my woman do such things.” The husband shot back: “She is not the sort of woman who would ever marry a man like you.”

SOURCE: B.B.C.; The Guardian

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