The central aim of Icelandic gender equality policy is to establish and maintain equal status and equal opportunities for women and men, and thus promote gender equality in all spheres of society. This includes promotion of entrepreneurship on equal terms regardless of gender.
In its action plan for gender equality, which is now being debated in parliament, the Icelandic government specifies the following focus areas for the period 2016-2019:
- The political administration
- The labour market – the gender pay gap
- Gender and power – representation in politics
- Gender-based violence
- Education and gender equality
- Men and gender equality
- International activities
The Minister of Social Affairs and Housing (under the Ministry of Welfare) leads the Icelandic government’s gender equality policy. The Ministry of Welfare has a special unit in charge of gender equality and employment matters. Each minister must have a gender equality expert within his or her ministry, with responsibility for gender mainstreaming and gender equality matters within the respective policy area.
The Centre for Gender Equality is placed under the Minister of Social Affairs and Housing and is responsible for the administrative gender equality work. The Centre reviews the country’s gender equality legislation and develops methods to implement the government’s gender equality policy. It also provides guidance and education on gender equality matters for the government, government agencies, the public and other actors. The Centre also works against gender discrimination in the labour market and gender stereotypes.
The Gender Equality Complaints Committee rules in cases where the gender equality legislation might have been violated. It consists of three lawyers appointed by the Minister of Social Affairs and Housing. The Committee’s decisions are binding and cannot be appealed at a higher level.
The Gender Equality Council consists of representatives from women’s organisations and the central labour market actors. It has a consultative function and focuses mainly on promotion of gender equality in working life and the reconciliation of work and family life. The Council also organises a gender equality forum every other year to discuss the development of gender equality in Iceland.
Municipal gender equality committees monitor whether women and men have equal rights at the local level. The committees have several functions: they give advice to municipal boards, monitor the development of gender equality and implement measures to ensure that women and men have equal rights.
Gender mainstreaming, which aims at integrating the national gender equality objectives in all policy areas, is a central method in the implementation of the Icelandic government’s gender equality policy. The act on gender equality provides that gender mainstreaming shall be a central aspect in the government’s development of policy and in all decision making. The gender mainstreaming policies within the different ministries are supported by special gender equality experts.
Iceland has worked systematically to integrate a gender equality perspective in the national budget since 2009 – so-called gender budgeting. Gender budgeting involves analysing the gender-specific effects of a budget and then giving necessary responses in line with the national gender equality objectives.
The Centre for Gender Equality works constantly on mainstreaming. It has produced guidelines and manuals for gender mainstreaming in Iceland. The work includes gender equality training to top and middle-level administrators in all ministries, unit managers within the ministries and at the municipal level, as well as managers within central government agencies.
Gender mainstreaming must be promoted in all municipal sectors and the local gender equality committees help ensure equal representation of women and men in all municipal activities.
Several studies in the early 1970s explored the gender equality among Icelandic citizens. One study on women’s and men’s salary bank deposits revealed significant gender pay differences that could not be attributed to employment history. Another important study on gender equality was published in 1975. It was conducted by the University of Iceland on request by the Icelandic Parliament and found that, despite equal legal rights, the country displayed substantial weaknesses in practical gender equality. The study helped mark the starting point for gender equality work in Iceland and contributed to the development of focus areas for the country’s gender equality policy.
The act on equal pay was adopted in 1961, and in 1973 an equal pay council was established to monitor compliance with the act. The institutionalisation of Icelandic gender equality policy was reinforced with the introduction of the gender equality act in 1976, which replaced the act on equal pay. The gender equality act was revised in 1985, 1991, 2000 and 2008 to make it applicable in all areas of society. The revisions also strengthened the obligation of public authorities and actors in the labour market to work actively to promote gender equality.
Gender equality matters were handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs until 2008, when the ministry was replaced with Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security. In 2010, this ministry was merged with the Ministry of Health to form the Ministry of Welfare, which is currently in charge of the country’s gender equality policy.