HomeNews'As far as gender parity is concerned, Iceland beats every record'

    ‘As far as gender parity is concerned, Iceland beats every record’

    “I am strong! I am brave! I am powerful!” Encouraged by their teacher, the little preschool girls shout these words, as they toss logs. They occupy half of the playground, the other half being reserved for boys – which prevents the latter from monopolizing the entire central space and relegating the girls to the corners, as in most schools. From soccer to dolls, whether they are labeled as male or female, games are played equally by all children here.

    This Icelandic school applies the Hjalli educational model, like 16 others in the country. Recently aired on France 24, a documentary by journalist Mélina Huet showed how these schools try to avoid confining children by gender stereotypes. Margret Pala Olafsdottir, the teacher who developed the method, was decorated by the government for her contribution to the construction of a more equal society.

    In fact, Iceland beats almost every record in the field. For more than a decade, it has topped the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings. Its parliament has the highest female representation in Europe, with 47.6%. The employment rate for Icelandic women is very high (77.5% in 2021, compared with 67.5% in the euro zone), and parental leave is taken almost equally by both parents.

    Restrictive laws

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    So, what is the secret of the volcanic island? Every year, around International Women’s Rights Day on March 8, all eyes turn to Iceland to find out. “Many factors come into play,” said Eliza Reid, Iceland’s first lady, who has just published a book on the subject, The Secrets of the Sprakkar. These women who change the world (Michel Lafon, 288 pages, €19.95, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World). “The most important one is the widely shared awareness that working towards more equality benefits everyone. That it is not for women to the detriment of men, but a decisive progress to build a better society for all those who live in it.”

    In Iceland, this awareness has ancient roots and is probably due in part to the small and relatively homogeneous population (370,000). But that is not the only reason. Its laws are also much more restrictive than elsewhere. Since 2018, Icelandic companies with more than 25 employees as well as government agencies, have been compelled to respect a standard of equal pay for equal work. An independent body checks that the criteria are met as defined by the law and grants a certification which must be renewed every three years. Those who do not meet the requirements are liable to a fine of up to 50,000 kroner (330 euros) per day. This is a much more effective system than the Pénicaud (gender equality) index in France, which is poorly controlled and easily circumvented.

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