Iceland: “No room for complacency for the world’s top performer on gender equality” – UN expert body

REYKJAVÍK (24 May 2013) – The United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice urged the newly formed Government of Iceland to sustain the country’s gender equality achievements and make further progress to close the remaining gaps. At the end of a fact-finding mission, the experts also called* on the authorities “to present a full articulation of its gender equality agenda.”

“There is no room for complacency regarding the gains achieved by Iceland, as equality guarantees in the law are still far from being fully implemented on the ground,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the expert group. The country was designated number one in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum precisely during the years it was dealing with the worst economic crisis in its history.

The human rights expert noted that this accomplishment reflects the consistently high priority given by the Icelandic Government to integrating gender equality throughout its policy-making, and the wide consensus among all stakeholders that gender equality is a pillar of Icelandic society. Iceland has become the global leader in measures to balance work and family life.

“However, despite these achievements, Iceland continues to face persistent gaps which are unresolved in two main areas: employment and gender based violence,” she said. “In both these areas, implementation of laws is lacking and women do not have sufficient trust in the system to seek redress for violations of their rights.”

Despite the fact that an act on equal pay for equal work has been in force since 1961, the gender pay gap still persists, noted human rights expert Frances Raday, the other member of the Group’s delegation visiting Iceland.

“The gender pay gap cannot be divorced from the highly segregated job market in Iceland,” Ms. Raday stressed. “Women’s work is concentrated in public service jobs, most prominently nursing and elementary teaching which are notably low paid. Women hold a low percentage of leadership positions, especially in the private sector.”

“The Working Group calls on the Government to take proactive measures to bring about elimination of discrimination in the labour market and to close the pay gap,” she said.

Regarding the issue of Gender-based violence, the experts highlighted that there is no specific and separate provision targeting domestic violence in the Penal Code. “We commend the introduction of the system of protection orders, but note that these orders are of short duration and have not been effectively applied,” Ms. Chandrakirana said.

The Working Group recalled the 2008 comments by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women regarding the significant disparity between the numbers of investigated cases of sexual offences, and the numbers of prosecutions and convictions in Iceland. “We are alarmed that this issue has not been fully addressed and corrected five years later,” she stressed. “We met with women who expressed their loss of trust in the criminal justice system.”

“We urge the Government to take concrete steps to reform the criminal justice system, such as special police training, a right to appeal a prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute and judicial education projects on crimes of sexual violence,” the independent expert said.

The Working Group also encouraged the Icelandic authorities to provide adequate support for organizations which enable persons of foreign origin, particularly women, to participate fully in economic, social, public and political life.

“Iceland is undergoing an unprecedented demographic change with a steady increase of persons of foreign origin, including immigrants, migrant workers and their families, refugees, asylum seekers,” Ms. Raday said. “We consider it a matter of immediate importance to pass the anti-discrimination bill.”

During its eight-day mission, the Group’s delegation met with Government officials at national and local levels, representatives of civil society organisations, as well as experts and academics and other stakeholders in Reykjavík, Akureyri and Dalvík.

The Working Group will present a report containing its conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice is composed of five independent experts from all regions of the world: Kamala Chandrakirana, Chair-Rapporteur (Indonesia); Emna Aouij (Tunisia); Patricia Olamendi Torres (México); Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland). Learn more, log on to:

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