What happens if you don’t show up to work?
1975 was designated by the United Nations as International Women’s Year, and the women of Iceland decided to honor that designation with an eloquent demonstration of the value of their work. On October 24th, 1975, they made the work they do obvious by not showing up to do it.
It’s estimated that 90% of women in Iceland stayed away from work, which was felt across the country, in all kinds of businesses and public and private institutions. Flights couldn’t take off without their stewardesses; newspapers couldn’t be printed without the women who set the type; children sat in classrooms with no teachers.
Women without paid jobs left their homes for the day, and as daycares were shut, fathers either had to stay home or take their children to work. The day came to be known among them as “the long Friday.”
As you can imagine, the walk-out caught everyone’s attention, and Iceland passed the Gender Equality Act the following year. Iceland was the first country in the world to democratically elect a woman as head of state–Vigdis Finnbogadottir was president from 1980 to 1996. She credits the “women’s day off” with paving the way for her presidency.
The World Economic Forum ranks Iceland in the top spot as far as gender parity goes, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. Icelandic women have staged walk-outs on four different occasions since their “women’s day off” in 1975, because the gender pay gap persists. Today, all over Iceland, women left work at 2:55 pm, highlighting the fact that their work after that time is unpaid, when compared with their male colleagues. (The New York Times’ Morning Briefing Newsletter tipped me off to this interesting story.)
[Image: women’s history archive]