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Gender inequality protesters in Iceland refused to do work for a day — even childcare

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Iceland, women and nonbinary people are back to work today - this after tens of thousands of people walked off the job in a one-day strike to protest gender inequality. The strikers refused to do any work, including household errands and child care. Even Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir joined yesterday's protest. We're joined now by Freyja Steingrimsdottir. She's communications director for the Icelandic Federation of Public Workers, which is a union that helped organize the strike. Welcome.

FREYJA STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Thank you.

SUMMERS: So, as we mentioned, thousands of people across the country of Iceland, including, presumably, yourself, were on strike yesterday. So can we just start by asking, what did that day look like for you?

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Well, I was probably one of the few women in Iceland not on strike, as I was one of the organizers of the event. But already, in the morning, driving to work, you could see a noticeable difference in traffic. The only people driving were men. You could see men with strollers, and stores were closed. Services were very limited, and - with the kind of highlight being in Reykjavik, where the police report that it's - it was probably around 100,000 women and nonbinary individuals showing up to show their support, and that's actually a quarter of the population in Iceland.

SUMMERS: So what was the message that you and the other organizers hoped to send with this one-day strike?

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Well, the slogan of the event is, you call this equality? And that refers to Iceland being the No. 1 on a lot of indexes when it comes to gender equality. We sometimes get the message that we should just be grateful and just wait patiently for the rest to follow. But we're not waiting. These indexes - they, for example, don't take into account gender-based and sexual violence which - studies show here that almost 40% of women of Iceland experience sexual or gender-based violence in their lifetimes. And that's not something a No. 1 country in gender equality should actually be proud of. Another theme was, of course, the wage gap between men and women, which is primarily because of the undervaluing of women's work with health care jobs, child care jobs, cleaning jobs and so on being some of the lowest paid in society where women are, of course, very dominant. And then there's all the unpaid labor we do.

SUMMERS: I want to talk about that unpaid labor for a second in just - in very direct terms. In my house, that would include me not doing the laundry, sweeping or vacuuming, managing our very complicated child care schedule, figuring out what my family is going to have for dinner. And that is all work that I and lots of other people across the world do without compensation every single day.

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Yeah.

SUMMERS: Why was it important to focus on that unpaid labor as well as paid labor of women and nonbinary people?

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Well, you know, as you say, it's a lot of work. And there was a Norwegian study recently that showed that Norwegian women - they are working approximately two more months per year than men if you take into account all the unpaid labor. And due to women doing so much unpaid labor, they are more likely to have part-time jobs, which also affects their earning, which perpetuates the wage gap, so on.

SUMMERS: It has been almost 50 years since Iceland's first full-day strike for gender equality, and I want to ask you to pitch forward a bit with me here. If you had to guess, do you think that 50 years from now, if I were to pick up the phone and call you again, that you and I would be having the same conversation?

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: I mean, I hope not. I hope we will not have to do a full-day strike again in 50 years. I hope I will not be an old lady at the strike with a sign standing there with my daughter and grandkids. I mean, our prime minister has said in Icelandic media that she thinks it's achievable to get to full gender equality within the decade. That's what we're going to fight for.

SUMMERS: That was Freyja Steingrimsdottir. She's the communications director for the Icelandic Federation of Public Workers. Thank you so much for being here.

STEINGRIMSDOTTIR: Thank you. Nice to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Megan Lim
Kathryn Fox
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.