Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Icelandic women are going on strike in protest against the gender pay gap

Iceland has made substantial progress and is leading the world in gender equality – but a significant gender pay gap remains.

Iceland has made substantial progress and is leading the world in gender equality – but a significant gender pay gap remains. Image: Unsplash/YoungShih

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is joining women and non-binary individuals in a full-day strike to protest against the country’s persistent gender pay gap.
  • Iceland tops the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for the 14th year in a row, but a significant gender pay gap still exists.
  • The strike is the second of its kind in Iceland since 1975 when the country’s women walked out of workplaces and homes to protest for gender equality.

Today could become known as “Long Tuesday” in Iceland as Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir leads women and non-binary people in a full-day strike for gender pay equality. Tens of thousands are expected to join marches in the capital Reykjavík and 10 other cities across the country, The Guardian reports.


It’s the first such strike since 24 October 1975, when 9 in 10 Icelandic women downed tools – whether at home or work – to demonstrate for equal rights. The day would become known as “The Women’s Day off” or “Long Friday”. Factories, banks, shops, schools and nurseries were forced to close, leaving many men to take their children to work with them.

Since then, Iceland has made substantial progress and is leading the world in gender equality – but a significant gender pay gap remains.

View of Iceland's economy profile.
Iceland ranks first for gender parity. Image: World Economic Forum

Iceland has the smallest gender gap globally

For the 14th year in a row, Iceland tops the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report 2023.


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The country has closed more than 91% of the gender gap when the world average is just under 69%.

Iceland scores very highly against some indicators measured by the report. For example, men and women are almost at parity when it comes to educational attainment, and the political participation of women in Iceland is also high.

More than two-fifths of ministerial and parliamentary positions in the country are held by women, and there has been a female head of state for 25 years of the last 50. Iceland is one of only two countries where women have held the highest political office for more years than men, the other being Bangladesh.

View of Iceland's indicators of economic participation and opportunity.
Pay and senior organizational representation have lagged in Iceland since 2021. Image: World Economic Forum

A significant pay gap remains

Iceland is well-known for its heavily subsidized childcare system, spending more than twice as much as other countries. This is to offset the so-called “motherhood penalty”, which research has shown to account for 80% of the gender pay gap.

However, Iceland ranks only 14th in the world on economic participation and opportunity. The country has been regressing since 2021 due to declining female representation in senior roles and women’s pay. Iceland is in 5th place globally for wage equality for similar work – but is still nearly 22% off pay equality, with a gender pay gap of almost 13% among OECD countries. And it only makes 33rd place when it comes to women’s income parity.

While closing the gender pay gap is the main thrust of the walkout, the organizers of the strike are also calling for action to be taken against gender-based and sexual violence, the Guardian reports. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, more than 22% of women in Iceland experience gender violence in their lifetime. At the same time, their healthy life expectancy has regressed since 2020.

Violence and undervaluing women go together

An activist told The Guardian that violence against women and undervaluing women in the labour market are linked and affect each other.

Unlike the 1975 strike, today’s walkout not only involves women but also non-binary people, who activists say face the same issues within a patriarchal system.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2023 shows that after a setback during the pandemic, closing the global gender gap is back on an upward trajectory. But since 2006 – when the World Economic Forum published the first report – the gap has only been reduced by 4.1 percentage points. The Forum calculates it will take about 131 years for men and women to reach full parity based on progress to date.

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