Minister of Social Affairs and Housing Eygló Harðardóttir has announced that she is drafting a bill which will prohibit discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity. Iceland is the only European nation where such discrimination is not explicitly forbidden by law, ruv.is reports.
The Icelandic penal code currently stipulates that anyone who denies an individual service on the basis on his or her ethnicity shall be punished by fines or jail time. Similar repercussions exist for threats or mockery on the basis of nationality or race.
A new report from the Red Cross in Iceland named first-generation immigrants as one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
According to Eygló, the new legislation is meant to expand protection for this group, and allow them the ability to seek their right to not be discriminated against in the legal system, particularly as it concerns the job market.
The idea is to further empower the Center for Gender Equality by broadening the legal scope of the term ‘equality’ to include race and origin.
Eygló said that most reported cases of discrimination have to do with employment, but several are also been in regards to the rental market. “What we are thinking, is primarily for people to have a particular way through the bureaucracy to confirm whether or not they’ve been discriminated against, based on these factors.”
“Of course there is discrimination and prejudice in Iceland like in other countries. That’s why it’s important to face it headfirst, that people have the option of having it confirmed and legally recognized, that we acknowledge it. Only then can we deal with the problem,” Eygló concluded.
The head of the Reykjavík Multicultural Council, Juan Camilo Roman Estrada, an Icelandic citizen of Columbian origin, said that prejudice against immigrants are widely found in Icelandic society.
He claims a lack of education is to blame. “Education about the society is needed for everyone and specifically for those working in public service and similar sectors. This is a great challenge that will take not just one day to solve, but several years. We sometimes talk as if there is no prejudice, that we are so ‘open-minded.’ But in reality, that is not the case, and we are often unaware of how we are behaving, and what impact our actions can have,” Juan told ruv.is.
He added that immigrants are often challenged to find work appropriate for their level of education. “They aren’t given a chance, maybe because they have a foreign accent, even if they speak Icelandic”.
Juan’s words echo Cynthia Trililani’s, who spoke last weekend at the fourth annual SlutWalk in Reykjavík on behalf of the Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network (W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland).
Cynthia, who has two university degrees and is currently working on a double master’s degree at the University of Iceland, was told when she first arrived in Iceland ten years ago to get a job as a masseuse, without even being asked about her education.
“When I was applying for jobs, it was recommended to me that I apply to be a masseuse, which as it happens is not my field of work. There are many highly-educated Asian women in this country that are sadly not able to get jobs in the fields of education, most likely because of language barriers,” Cynthia said in an interview with ruv.is.
In her speech at the SlutWalk, as well as in her interview on RÚV, Cynthia spoke of the discrimination she and many of her friends have suffered in Iceland, particularly at the hands of men.
“When I go out, many Icelandic men assume I am a prostitute. They come up to me and ask me how much it costs to spend time with me,” Cynthia revealed. She also claimed to have been denied entry to certain clubs and bars, and to have been told by the doormen that it was to uphold the place’s good reputation.
Cynthia believes that prejudice exists in every society, and calls on Icelanders to stop regarding her and other immigrants as foreigners, and to rather see them first and foremost as friends, neighbors and fellow countrymen. “In my opinion everyone has some prejudice. In most cases they are born from ignorance.”