In Disbelief (JB)

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Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Today is my wedding anniversary. I’ve been married for seven years now to a man who sees me as his equal in every way, the same way I see him as my equal.

We respect each other’s individuality and we are a team. We are a we as much as we are individually I’s.

But as I celebrate this beautiful day, I am nonetheless wrought with disbelief for two reasons.

Quite recently, a young woman participated in Morfís, a national high school debate competition, where teams from individual schools all over the country debate a topic of their choice.

From what I gather, the team leaders are expected to participate in the organization of the event by negotiating amongst themselves a topic and a meeting place. This, no doubt, is intended to teach the youth of this country negotiation techniques and diplomacy, and it is a valid lesson to learn.

But for this young woman, who led a team from a school in North Iceland, the negotiations were grounds for complaints as she endured misogyny in a form of verbal gender-biased harassment, that I would interpret as sexual harassment. 

She reported this behavior to the administrators in her high school and appropriate action was taken. The team and the coach apologized for their action, and according to bb.is, a local news site, she accepted the apology.

However, the apologies were insincere and on February 7, the date the debate was scheduled, the opposition team that came from a school on the northwestern corner of Iceland, publicly harassed her, revealing the ugly face of misogyny and sexism in our society.

Following this incident, a number of young women came forth with similar stories. A feminist website published several accounts of harassment, and another article was published where the issue of misogyny and sexism is identified and discussed as a heritage of undying patriarchy, followed by proposals intended to improve the current situation.

Since the incident, the team has apologized, and the team leader has this time offered his sincere apology to the young woman, and to his credit, has taken it a step further, and resigned from an office of responsibility within his school where such behavior is utterly intolerable.

If only there were more people able and willing to take responsibility for their actions and their words.

In addition, the team’s coach, who also coached a team in the competition that was guilty of blatant misogyny and sexism when they chose to humiliate a female contestant by publicly displaying a private photo of her topless during the debate, has resigned from both coaching and judging in the competition.

On the Morfís debate competition’s official webpage, the organizers stated on February 15 that the rules and regulations would be changed so that such conduct will be a punishable action in the Morfís competition. 

As a 33-year-old woman, who has experienced harassment and been exposed to misogyny and sexism, it is very disappointing to realize so little has changed in all these years.

But it’s not just misogyny that is on my mind.

Unlike my relationship, it seems the marriage between this current government of ours and the people is one without mutual respect. The government is the dominant partners, the partner that believes it possesses a greater perspective and the wisdom than the weak partner in this relationship, that is, the people.

In this case, the issue is the European Union. Following a report on Iceland’s ascension talks with the EU, published by the Institute of Economic Studies in Iceland, both those in favor of joining the EU and those in opposition of joining, have interpreted aspects that support their position. 

That includes the political parties in leadership, the Progressive Party and the Independence Party. As the official policy of both parties is to oppose joining the EU, they have taken it a step further, and chose to take what they presumably see as appropriate action.

Therefore, this week, a proposal to end all ascension talk and withdraw the application is to be put to parliament.

In the 2013 elections, the Independence Party promised voters who gave them their vote to hold an EU referendum so that the people could vote whether to continue the negotiation talks or to abandon them entirely.

The Progressive Party was more vague in their election promises, stating that the ascension talks will only continue if a national referendum concludes that is the people’s will.

As it turns out, this idea has been abandoned entirely, regardless of how the people, to whom they supposedly represent feel about it.

So, I ask again, is Iceland a haven for democracy and equal rights?

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.