Statement by the Prime Minister of Iceland
to the UN Human Rights Council
In Iceland one of the first thing we do when we wake up is to check the weather. We look to the sky, open our windows to assess how the day will go and breath in the brisk air. The weather impacts many aspects of our daily lives. For previous generations, the weather of the day could be a best friend, or a worst enemy, determining not only the quality of life in the weeks to come, but sometimes also life itself.
We are very much aware of our connection to our environment.
Sometimes we need to be shielded from it, a reality that is becoming sharper every year for millions around the world. We depend on the environment, and the environment depends on us. This is a truth and it is becoming ever more pressing.
We all have the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment. It is also a right that underpins many of our other human rights. Our right to life can be violated with environmental pollution and climate change. Our right to food, water, sanitation and health all depend on us achieving the right to a healthy environment.
I have, in collaboration with other political parties, proposed two changes to the Icelandic Constitution that will solidify this right. The first amendment will clearly state that the natural resources of Iceland belong to the Icelandic people and their utilization shall always be sustainable.
The other will reconfirm the right of all to a healthy environment and to have access to information and take part in public decision making on environmental matters.
With this change the right to a healthy environment will be firmly enshrined in the Icelandic constitution and will guide our approach for decades to come. We carry a joint responsibility for protecting our environment, not only so we can sustain ourselves, but also to sustain future generations.
This Council cannot stand by as the world deals with monumental changes to our environment. I believe therefore that it is this Council to formally recognize the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment and our common responsibility to maintain it for future generations. I commit my Government´s support to this effort.
Close to 70 years ago, countries of the world gathered here in Geneva to develop an instrument to ensure that all individuals should be fairly and equally remunerated for work of equal value. This principle, enshrined in the Constitution of the International Labour Organization, was later reaffirmed through the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Despite this resolve, gender inequality and structural discrimination persist in all societies.
A striking example is the fact that no country has yet managed to ensure equal pay for work of equal value.
Across all regions, countries and sectors, women are paid less than men – with estimates of a global wage gap of up to 20%.
Regrettably, progress to tackle this inequality has been painfully slow.
We need to step up our efforts.
We need to develop laws, policies and frameworks to ensure that the equal pay principle is not only duly recognized in law, but that the law translates into practice.
Last year, a groundbreaking equal pay law entered to force in Iceland. The new legislation makes Iceland the first country in the world to require employers to obtain certification on the basis of an equal pay management requirement standard. By doing so, the responsibility of ensuring equal pay was moved from the employee to the employer.
We must also recognize the various factors that contribute to pay inequality.
An underrecognized factor is unpaid care work and domestic work, which is unfairly distributed in the household. Addressing this imbalance is important, not only to achieve more substantive equality, but also as this reinforces a negative chain reaction. Imbalances of responsibilities in the home have consequences for women’s participation in public life as well their professional development and ability to undertake full time work. Women’s economic independence is a key to gender equality at large and also an extremely important tool to work towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Public policies can lead the way. In Iceland, we have seen the positive impact of parental leave with a dedicated share for fathers. Up to90 % of fathers use their earmarked three-month entitlements of paternity leave. Recent studies indicate that parents now share the care of young children more equally than before.. Along with universal childcare, parental leave has created a social infrastructure that strengthens women’s position at work and enables them to take part in public life.
Research also confirms that parental leave has changed traditional ideas about masculinities among young people. This indicates that prior to the introduction of shared parental leave, the relatively low participation of men in the care of their own children may have been due to the lack of opportunities, rather than the lack of interest or abilities.
Finally, we have created the conditions under which women are not forced to choose between having a family and having a career.
We are constantly reminded that human rights do not always follow a linear path. Currently, previous victories on women’s reproductive freedom are under threat in far too many places. Women’s bodies are being re-politicized and debates that should have been over decades ago are emerging again. In the field of violence against women new phenomena have emerged, such as sexist hate speech, misogyny and online violence. LGBTIQ+ rights are also under threat – we hear that equality has moved too fast.
This comes at the same time as the #metoo movement continues to expose the systematic harassment, violence and everyday sexism that women across various layers of our societies are subjected to. Governments and international organizations have an important role to play. We should unite to push back on the backlash and ensure that women’s rights are never sidelined or sacrificed in the game of local and global politics.
Iceland, with the support of other members of the Equal Pay International Coalition, has decided to put forward a Council resolution that will underline the human rights framework that underpins the fundamental rights nature of equal pay.
It will highlight that failing to economically empower women and girls through equal pay has a negative long-term impact on economies, social justice, sustainable development and States ability to realize human rights. We ask for your support for this important resolution and we look forward to our continuing collaboration to ensure women’s liberation and equality for all genders.
I thank you, Mr./Madam President.