Welcome to the second day of this remarkable conference, held in collaboration between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the International Labour Organisation.
I am speaking here in the capacity of the Prime Minister of Iceland, but also – and in this context more importantly – as the minister for gender equality. Gender equality was recently added to my portfolio to further strengthen our commitment, acknowledging that gender equality cuts through all different government ministries.
For almost 45 years, the Nordic collaboration has served as both an inspiration and an encouragement to walk the extra mile to progress. Through the Nordic Prime Minister Initiative – The Nordic gender effect at work – we have promoted gender equality at the international level, not only as the right thing to do, but also as the smart thing to do.
It has been repeatedly confirmed that more equal and inclusive societies result in stronger economies and better businesses. The Nordic gender effect at work has invited other countries and international organizations to a dialogue on these opportunities. And I would like to use this platform to thank the ILO, the OECD and UN Women for the close cooperation over the past three years and for realizing the idea of the Knowledge hub on the Nordic Gender Effect.
One product of this close cooperation is the report conducted by the OECD in 2018 under the headline: Is the last Mile the Longest? The report looks at how women’s paid employment has contributed to economic growth in our region. On average, across the Nordic countries almost three in every four working-age women are in paid employment. And we know from this study – as so many others – that the rise in women’s employment leads directly to economic growth.
But still, we have not reached full parity in employment and more women than men work part-time, reflecting on women’s large share in unpaid work. Women are also much likelier than men to leave work relying on early retiring, rehabilitation or disability benefits.
This is not least true for women who work in care and in education; jobs that are both emotionally and physically difficult and are becoming more complex by the day. This has negative implications for women’s income, carrier development and future pensions. Since we are gathered here to discuss the future of work, these gendered trends need to be included in our analysis. Care work, as an example, has been defined as one of the areas that artificial intelligence will struggle to take over, not least the emotional labor associated with both paid and unpaid care.
It is not a goal in itself for women work as long hours or as many years as men – we would probably all benefit from working a bit less. Yet, gender balance in employment is essential to women’s financial independence and therefore a key element in ending gender inequalities, including violence against women. But for women to take part in the labor market, we need to create the conditions under which women can do so. The Nordic countries have done a remarkable job on this front and two public policies are particularly worth mentioning in this context: universal childcare and well-funded shared parental leave – with a use-it-or-lose-it proportion for fathers. These policies can have the potential to transform the makeup of our societies, in both our public and private lives, and have contributed greatly to the economic prosperity in the Nordic countries. Flexible work arrangements and gender equality in leadership have also helped form a more inclusive labor market. This infrastructure enables women to take part in public life and be represented in decision-making, as I myself am an example of.
Yet, the gender pay gap remains far too sturdy across the globe. I am proud that Iceland is among the countries that initiated the co-operation leading up the Equal Pay International Coalition and that my Ministry hosted a two days technical seminar earlier this week on ways to ensure equal pay.
The unadjusted pay gap can partly be attributed to the gender segregation in the labor market and the undervaluation of traditional women’s jobs as compared to traditional men’s jobs. Here in Iceland, this pay gap – and the fact that women are more likely to work part time – contributes to pension inequality as pensions are directly linked to previous earnings.
As for the principle of equal pay for work of equal value – we have set the target of closing the adjusted gender pay gap by 2022. We are currently in the process of implementing the 2018 Law on Equal Pay Certification. The law builds on the adoption of an equal pay standard which was developed in a close collaboration between the government and the social partners and requires companies and institutions of 25 or more employees to undergo an equal pay audit. The Standard transfers the responsibility of equal pay from the individual employee over to the employer. It is the obligation of the employer to ensure, by means of a certification, that there is no wage discrimination within their company or institution.
As the law is still under its first phase of implementation, we do not have an impact assessment yet – but we know that the benefits have outweighed the costs.
I would like to conclude by highlighting the impact of the #metoo movement, which exposed systematic harassment, violence and everyday sexism that women across various layers of our societies are subjected to. Here in Iceland, thousands of women spoke out and the movement revealed the multiple discrimination suffered by migrant women in a country that has throughout history been relatively ethnically homogenous. We may all have known that harassment and violence existed, but #metoo has helped us understand the scale of the problem and the structural nature of violence against women and girls. And structural problems require structural solutions.
It is the responsibility of every one of us to do everything in our power to ensure that the reality exposed by #metoo soon belongs to history. My government has undertaken a thorough review of our role as an employer. Different ministers have initiated various projects to learn from the #metoo movement and find ways to prevent further discrimination.
The Minister for Education, Science and Culture has, as an example, put forward a specific bill to address harassment and abuse in sports. A large study on the scope of harassment in the Icelandic labor market is being conducted under the auspices of the Minister of Social Affairs and Children and the results will be translated to immediate action in close collaboration with the social partners. And this fall the Icelandic government – as a part of our presidency in the Nordic Council of Ministers – is gathering world leaders, experts and activists in this area to explore the impact of the #metoo movement, the policy responses to it and the way forward. This will include a discussion on the impact of harassment and violence on gender equality at work.
I hope to see some of you here in September!
This year marks the 150 years anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s famous essay, The Subjection of Women. In his essay, Mill described the most deep-rooted inequalities of that time: the legal subordination of one sex to the other – and the urgency of moving away from this form of social relations and towards the principle of perfect equality.
I don’t know how Mill would analyze the 21st Century, we have certainly moved away from legal inequality in most corners of the world. But it remains frustrating how far we are still from achieving the full liberation of women. While our conversation today might feel repetitive and in some instances technical, it is extremely important for the continuation of our work to end gender inequalities at work and in society at large.
I wish us all an interesting conversation for the rest of today and very much hope those of you travelling from abroad are enjoying your stay in Iceland.
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