Moral Low Ground

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Iceland to Become First Nation to Mandate Equal Pay for Women

Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street. (Photo: naraht/Flickr Creative Commons)

Iceland will become the first nation in the world to mandate that employers prove they offer equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.

The Associated Press reports the Icelandic government announced the new policy on Wednesday, International Women’s Day. The government, which aims to eliminate the gender pay gap by 2022, said it will introduce legislation to parliament later this month requiring businesses with more than 25 employees to obtain certification of their egalitarian pay practices.

Last October, thousands of women across Iceland walked off their jobs at 2:38 p.m. to protest the enduring pay gap — in an average eight-hour work day, women performing the same work as men are essentially laboring for free after than time. Although ranked the world’s best nation for gender equality by numerous organizations including the World Economic Forum, in Iceland women earn, on average, 14-18 percent less than men. “The time is right to do something radical about this issue,” Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said when announcing the new policy. “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that.”

Iceland has long been a leader in the fight for gender equality. Centuries ago, the seafaring nation’s women took on expanded domestic roles while men worked at sea. Icelandic women won the right to vote in 1915, five years before the 19th Amendment enfranchised their American counterparts. A nationwide “Women’s Day Off” demonstration in 1975 proved a watershed for women’s rights and within five years the nation of 228,000 people became the first in the world to elect a woman head of state. Today, nearly half of the lawmakers in Iceland’s parliament are women, and according to a University of Iceland School of Social Sciences study, 26 percent of company board members and 22 percent of CEOs were women in 2014.

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