Participants in the first Women's Summit in March 2023. Photos/Lárus Karl.
The newly appointed Gender Equality Committee expresses the Federation's determination to place greater emphasis on this important topic. Gender Equality Officer, Guðrún Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, explains the need for a strong and unified women's voice within the Icelandic labour movement.
To the forefront
A NEW Gender Equality Committee of the Confederation of Labour was appointed at the beginning of the year and encouraged to make its mark. ASÍ should go to the front of the V-formation in the fight for gender equality.
Previously, the Gender Equality Committee was under the jurisdiction of the Labour Market, Employment, and Gender Equality Committee, but it was split off to become an independent body to raise the profile of the issue. The committee covers gender equality on a broad basis and focuses on groups that are underrepresented in society, including women, LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, and refugees.
In accordance with its nature, the committee is tasked with putting women's issues at the forefront, improving the status of women within the movement, creating space for women's solidarity, and encouraging women to have an impact, without neglecting other groups. A strong and united voice of women within the movement will then result in an even more powerful voice outward, onto the labour market and into society, where there is still work to be done. This article, therefore, looks at the powering up of the confederation’s women’s struggle and the tasks ahead.
The accounts tell a story
Increased emphasis on gender equality by the leadership of the movement should be celebrated, and it is interesting to consider the reasons behind it. Could the 2022 gender balance report of the Confederation of Labour have awakened the movement to the need to do better in gender equality matters? The gender balance report shows that although women make up just under half of the members, they are only 19% of those who sit on the boards of the confederation, 35% on the boards of member associations and divisions, and 33% of the members of the central administration. Looking over the period from 2011 to 2022, the gender ratio of members remains relatively stable over this 11-year period; women account for about 46% of members but just over a third in the boards of associations and divisions. In the central administration, there are greater fluctuations in the gender ratio, with women making up 40% in 2012, dropping to 20% in 2017, and now at 33%, as previously mentioned.
Women's power activated
The Equality Committee decided to do its bit, catch a welcome wind in its sails, and plan actions to kindle the fighting spirit of women and support them in their pursuit of increased influence in the movement.
Women's leadership meetings
The idea of bringing women leaders within the Confederation of Labor together regularly was born at the first meeting of the new Gender Equality Committee, and it was decided that the group should meet twice a year, in spring and autumn. The Confederation of Labour's women leaders group includes female chairs and vice-chairs of associations and divisions, women in the central administration and the Gender Equality Committee, both main and alternate members, and the discussions would cover women's rights issues each time, as well as providing regular leadership training for the group.
The first women's leadership meeting was held in early March, and the theme of the meeting was a reassessment of the value of women's work, which is one of the largest projects currently being undertaken by the authorities in close cooperation with labour market stakeholders. The project aims to eliminate the gender pay gap that stems from a gender-segregated labour market and the systematic undervaluation of traditional women's jobs. Three speakers with expertise in the field were invited to the meeting to give presentations. The meeting was deemed successful by the participants, attended by seventeen women leaders, as well as the executive board of the Confederation of Labour, staff of the Gender Equality Committee, and an interpreter. The executive director of the SGS was the meeting's chair. The next women's leadership meeting is planned for September of this year.
ASÍ women's conference
The Gender Equality Committee aims to hold the next Women's Conference in the fall. The tradition is to hold them every 2-3 years, but the committee believes it is worth considering holding women's conferences annually from now on. It is important to strike while the iron is hot and create a forum where women, both socially elected and professional union staff, can meet and discuss issues related to women's welfare and rights. The committee has discussed that the theme of this year's conference would be the aforementioned undervaluation of women's work. Conference attendees would receive a general introduction to the project, and after that, they would be asked to solve a task on how to use the "corrected" value assessment of wage women in the Confederation of Labour for the good of working women. The output of the women's conference would thus be a tailor-made tool in the fight against the persistent gender pay gap, with an emphasis on women's occupations within our ranks where wages have systematically been kept low.
ASÍ women's forum on Facebook
To activate as many women as possible in the movement across the country, both elected and professional union staff, a Facebook page was created which is called Kvennavettvangur ASÍ (the ASÍ women’s forum). The page will be launched in the run-up to the ASÍ conference and will be open to women within the Confederation of Labour. The purpose of the group is to be a platform for dialogue and education for women in the labour movement.
The idea of establishing a women's forum was sparked at the 2022 Women's Conference of the Confederation of Labour. Among the conclusions of the conference was the following:
The main conclusion of the ASÍ Women's Conference 2022 is that there is a need for women in the movement to work on their interests in an organized manner. The Women's Conference suggests that a preparatory group develops a special platform for this work. This platform will support the women's network within the movement in a sustainable way and empower women to have an impact in the movement.
This preparatory group was established shortly after the conference and met twice. The conclusion was that a Facebook page would be an appropriate form of such a platform. A small editorial committee has been formed from the ranks of women in the preparatory group. The page will have specific "house rules" in place, posts will be reviewed by the editorial committee before being published, and inappropriate comments will be promptly removed.
The biggest gender equality issues
The correction of the skewed value assessment of women's work, as described above, is undoubtedly one of the largest projects for the gender equality committee in the coming months. Women still face wage inequality, even though equal pay was enacted 60 years ago and the gender pay gap has significantly narrowed since then. However, there is no reason to underestimate the remaining difference. According to the 2021 Wage Survey by the Icelandic Statistics Office, the unadjusted gender pay gap in the general market is 13.9%. For a woman earning ISK 650,000 per month, this means a loss of ISK 108,000 per month, ISK 1.3 million per year, and ISK 65 million over her working life.
Measures taken so far have not systematically addressed the fundamental inequality that arises from the skewed value assessment of women's work across industries and workplaces. For example, the Equal Pay Standard is limited to the employer's kennitala and thus has limited impact on reducing the gender pay gap that results from a labour market segregated by gender, where women and men work in different jobs in different industries. Both Icelandic and international research shows that one of the main explanations for the gender pay gap is gender-segregation in the labour market.
This ideological development is evident in the recent Icelandic Gender Equality Act no. 150/2020. According to Article 6, paragraph 1, of the Act, "women, men, and people with a neutral gender registration in the national registry shall receive equal pay and enjoy the same benefits for the same or equally valuable work." This change, moving from the definition that the genders should enjoy the same benefits for comparable work to equally valuable work without requiring employees to work for the same employer, calls for a new approach in measures intended to eliminate the gender pay gap.
This project is carried out in several stages. Currently, a development project is underway in collaboration with four public institutions, with the aim of developing the Icelandic approach to identifying all aspects of work, including those that could be undervalued, improving systems and tools to capture the equal value approach of the Gender Equality Act.
Enhanced ASÍ response to #MeToo cases
The labour movement has participated in the social discourse surrounding #MeToo since its first wave and, in fact, much earlier. In the summer of 2021, Varða, the labour market research institute, conducted a survey on the scope and nature of cases reported to ASÍ and BSRB member associations, revealing difficulties in determining the extent of the issue, discrepancies in recordkeeping, and a lack of clear procedures. A clear call from participating member associations emerged for assistance with handling and processing such cases, and a strong desire to improve was evident. The survey also showed that victims often ended up bearing the burden in such cases, which respondents considered highly unsatisfactory.
Now, efforts are being made to strengthen trade unions in handling such cases. Preparations for a workshop are currently underway, which will be held in the fall, focusing on the nature, consequences, and solutions related to sexual harassment/violence in the workplace. Additionally, education on relevant laws and regulations will be provided, as well as training in processes/response plan creation, employer responsibilities, and best practices for supporting victims. Basic training in trauma support will also be provided. The workshop is a joint project of VIRK, ASÍ, and BSRB and is open to all VIRK consultants and staff members of the ASÍ and BSRB umbrella organizations. The aim of the workshop is to equip individuals with the necessary knowledge and expertise to support victims in the most professional manner possible, with a thorough understanding of the issues involved, following the workshop.
Furthermore, VIRK intends to train a specialized staff member at each VIRK office nationwide, providing a form of "first aid" to all workers with at least one consultation. Relevant trade union staff can either refer wage earners who have experienced sexual harassment/violence to the trained staff member or seek advice from them when such cases are reported to the trade unions.
Stronger and more coordinated women in the labor movement, whether they are female leaders, women in positions of confidence, or trade union staff, will result in a more direct and sharp voice in dealing with stakeholders and authorities. The collective strength will then contribute to a more robust whole, benefiting the entire movement.