On October 24th, 1975, ninety percent of women in Iceland took “a day off”. Refraining from working, childcare, and household tasks, they brought the nation to a complete standstill (or utter chaos, depending on your perspective) in protest over women’s rights and equality.
One interview about the day reports, “Gudrun Jonsdottir still remembers what she was wearing on October 24, 1975. She was 21, just married with a young child, and was not going to cook, clean, and was definitely not going to work. Nor were my mother, my friends’ mothers, the shop assistants in the supermarket, the teachers – in short an estimated 90% of women in Iceland. A neighbour, the mother of three boisterous boys, left her family to fend for themselves at 8am and did not return until late in the evening. Remarkably, although Icelandic society was almost brought to a standstill that fine day, its women had never felt so alive, so purposeful and so determined.”
The United Nations had proclaimed 1975 a Women’s Year, and a committee from the major women’s organizations in Iceland had been set up to organize events. A radical women’s movement called the Red Stockings suggested, “Why don’t we just all go on strike?” The idea was agreed to after the word “strike” was replaced with “a day off” to make the concept more popular with women throughout the country, and to make it harder for employers (who could fire women going on strike) to deny them “a day off”.
In the capitol city, 25,000 women gathered in a mass demonstration (Iceland’s total population was only 220,000). The men were barely coping as the rest of the women refused to work or care for children. Some employers bought sweets and gathered pencils and papers for the large numbers of children who were brought to work that day by their fathers. Sausages – which were the equivalent of take-out pizza in those days – sold out in supermarkets.
Global Nonviolent Action Database says, “There was no telephone service. Newspapers were not printed because all the typesetters were women. Theaters shut down because actresses refused to work. Schools closed, or operated at limited capacity, because the majority of teachers were female. Airline flights were cancelled because flight attendants did not work that day. Bank executives had to work as tellers to keep the banks open because the female tellers had taken the day off.”
By the following year, Iceland’s parliament had passed a law guaranteeing equal rights to women and men.
This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com