Iceland has mandated equal pay and China has to take note

Hats off to Iceland. On New Years Day the island nation became the first in the world to slap companies with fines if they pay a woman less than a man, because it is illegal.

Companies and government agencies with more than 25 employees will face fines if they can’t demonstrate that men and women receive the same salary for the same job.

Iceland’s government had, on International Women’s Day last year, pledged to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022, and it’s stuck to its promise to introduce certification that ensures gender equality in the workplace.

The law, introduced late last year, requires private companies and government agencies to go through audits and receive certification that equal pay is provided, or they could face fines.

Some members of Parliament from the centre-right Independence Party had voiced opposition to the new legislation, but abstained when it came to the final vote.

Larger companies will have to implement the standard by 2019. All companies will have to implement the standard by 2021 and renew their certification each year.

“We want to break down the last of the gender barriers in the workplace,” Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland’s social affairs and equality minister said in an interview last year.

“History has shown that if you want progress, you need to enforce it.”

Getting here was not a quick process. Icelanders have long supported change and its government has long backed them with laws and systems that enable it.

First, there’s been people power: Icelandic women began agitating for changes more than 40 years ago.

On October 24, 1975, there was a massive wave of professional and domestic strikes. Icelandic women had refused to carry out domestic work and childcare to prove that society would be paralysed without women’s labour.

Such protests continued throughout the years. In October 2016, thousands of women across Iceland walked out of their workplaces at 2.38pm (women’s rights groups had calculated the pay gap meant that, after that time each day, women were working for free).

According to Iceland opinion polls, Icelanders generally support quotas.

So there’s been systemic changes: In 2008, Iceland passed a law that requires at least 40 per cent of each gender to be represented on boards and in senior management in public corporations.

In 2010, Iceland’s government adopted a 40 per cent gender quota for private company boards, which took hold on September 1, 2013.

Then on International Women’s Day Iceland’s government publicly stated it would ensure that all jobs of equal value are paid the same – that is, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.

It pledged it would make it compulsory for all companies with 25 employees or more to develop a certification scheme for gender pay equality. And it has.

Many Icelandic companies are already following a voluntary equal pay standard that the new law is based on.

Iceland also has continually worked towards the most gender equal parliaments in the world, with about 50 per cent of lawmakers being women.

The culmination of all this is that for the past nine years Iceland has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as the world’s most gender-equal country.

The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report measures gaps between men and women in the key areas of education, health, economics and politics.

It found that Iceland has almost closed its gender gap in these areas – 87 per cent of the Icelandic gender gap has already been closed. It has been reduced by 10 per cent since 2006, making Iceland among the fastest nations to reach gender equality.

, meanwhile, ranked 35th out of 144 countries.

Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind, a Icelandic Women’s Rights Association board member, told Al Jazeera: “We have managed to get to the point that people realise that the legislation we have had in place is not working, and we need to do something more”.

It’s time comes to that realisation too.

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