A cry for gender equality from Iceland AHN CHAK-HEE The author is the head of the global cooperation team at the JoongAng Ilbo. On Oct. 24, Iceland, the “country of northern lights,” stopped for 24 hours. Kindergartens and schools were closed, banks were closed nationwide, and hospitals received only emergency patients. Fathers either worked from home or took children to work. Tens of thousands of women, who usually took this role instead of men, “occupied” the downtown of capital Reykjavik and shouted “You call this equality?” On this day, women in Iceland started a 24-hour protest against the wage gap between men and women and sexual violence. They walked out from work, childcare and housework for 24 hours. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir closed her office and canceled a cabinet meeting in solidarity. Iceland is considered the best country for women to live in. The world’s first female president was elected in 1980, and the world’s first gay female prime minister was appointed in 2009. According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum this year, Iceland’s wage gap for equal labor between men and women was 13% — lower than 17 percent in the U.S. and far better than Korea’s 31 percent. Nevertheless, Icelandic women went on an “all-day strike” because of the awareness that “true equality is still remote.” Surprisingly, this is not the first strike. On October 24, 1975, activists took the streets and used the term “Kvennafri” — or “Women’s day off” — to encourage participation of women who may be reluctant to use the term “strike.” In an interview with an Australian television, a feminist activist who had attended the rally 48 years ago recalled that the smell of burning meat filled the residential district of Reykjavik that evening, as women refused to do housework and men ended up burning meat while cooking. Today, many men are good at grilling, but back then, cooking must have been a challenge for Icelandic men. A one-day strike cannot change society at once. But such moves will contribute to awaking the public awareness on the heavy burden on women. Women in some countries, including Australia, are proposing to go on a 24-hour strike in solidarity with their Icelandic sisters. It is a tempting proposal. But it could be better if our society moves toward the direction of more equality even without resorting to such shock therapy.

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