Forty years ago today, Icelandic women took the day off from housework, childcare or paid jobs to bring attention to the importance of their work, RÚV reports. October 24, 1975, ninety percent of women took to the streets in their fight for women’s rights, thereby paralyzing the country. They demanded rights and wages comparable to those enjoyed by men. Speeches were given in Lækjartorg square, downtown Reykjavík, by nationally known women. The Women’s Day Off coincided with the 30th anniversary of the United Nations.
Newspapers covered the mass demonstration and the “emergency situation” it caused. One of the headlines even read, “Men forced to do their own dishes.”
At a conference in June that same year, women from all ranks of society and every political party had united in calling for this day off.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, a divorced, single mother, was elected president of Iceland in 1980. She was Europe's first female president, and the world’s first woman to be democratically elected as head of state.
She sees October 24 as the day which paved the way for her presidency: “What happened that day was the first step for women’s emancipation in Iceland,” she tells BBC. “It completely paralyzed the country and opened the eyes of many men.”
Men doing dishes no longer make headlines, but Una Hildardóttir, spokesperson for the Feminist Association of Iceland tells RÚV, “Unfortunately, there still exists a gender pay gap in Iceland. We rank first in terms of [gender] equality, but I believe we ought to be the first country to eradicate the gender pay gap.”