There was already a lot to love about Iceland. The people are friendly, the landscape is breathtaking and unique, and the city asks residents to turn off their outdoor lights during particularly awesome displays of the Northern Lights.
They also read —a lot. There are more books published per capita in Iceland than any other nation on Earth, most in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s part of their seasonal tradition called the Christmas Book Flood. Books are the top gift of choice for Icelanders and they spend Christmas Eve reading. It sounds like bliss, right? It makes sense when there’s only four hours of daylight at the winter solstice in Iceland. (By comparison, here in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, we have nearly double the hours of sunlight at that time and it still feels dark. I can relate, I think.)
Iceland’s high literacy rates might be behind yet one more reason to love this small, but mighty country. Remarkably, though maybe not surprisingly given the male-centric education most of us had, I just learned about this reason today, on its 41st anniversary. Have you heard of Iceland’s Women’s Day Off? It’s a gentler — and perhaps more palatable in some circles — way of saying, “Let’s strike and show ’em what we’re made of. Let’s show what women are worth!”
On October 24, 1975, the women of Iceland left their jobs, their homes, their children (just for the day, mind you, and in the care of their dads) and went on strike in support of equal rights. It was a massive display of solidarity — 90% of the nation’s women participated — and a highly effective demonstration of the importance of women’s contributions to society. Up to 25,000 women (at the time, 12 percent of the population) marched through the streets of the capital city, Reykjavik.
It was just the beginning of a new social movement. Five years later the people of Iceland elected their first woman prime minster, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who served for 16 years. Today, “women now hold 41% of the seats in parliament and the country has been ranked number one in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for seven years in a row,” according to A Mighty Girl‘s Facebook page, where I learned about this extraordinary event.
Could something like this work here in the U.S.? Imagine what the strength and power of that kind of solidarity among American women could do. There are 159 million of us. One of us is about to be elected President, and it’s the vote of us women that will put her there.
To learn more about Women’s Day Off, which some men called “The Long Friday,” check out the BBC article below.