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20.09.2022 08:00 Félags- og vinnumarkaðsráðuneytið

Ávarp ráðherra á viðburði á vegum Íslands og OECD í tilefni alþjóðlega jafnlaunadagsins 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, and everyone else outside these two categories,

It is my pleasure to take part in this exciting event here today.

Pay check is of course important, but equal pay is so much more than just the pay check. Equal pay and economic independence are the foundation for gender equality, which has broad implications, including increased safety for women and girls from gender based violence. 

In Iceland, two of the key components to our gender equality success are generous parental leave at the birth of a child for both parents, and universal daycare and preschools.

Iceland first instated an independent parental leave for fathers in the year 2000 and over the years it has become increasingly normalized for fathers to take parental leave. Here, we have seen a policy turned into legislation changing mainstream societal attitudes. Yet another consequence of this is that by taking a leave at the birth of their child, fathers become more invested in the care of their child and create a habit of doing their share in the work and care of their children.

The main goal of the Icelandic parental leave system is twofold. First, to ensure that children enjoy the care of both parents and secondly, for both women and men to be able to organize family life and employment. These goals are very important since all changes that are made to the system must be in line with these goals.

The other element that has had some of the biggest impact on Iceland´s gender equality as we see it today, is the high-quality universal daycare and preschools we have in place for all children. But I´m not discussing that here today.

So, back to paternity leave. Since it was introduced, many studies have been carried out on its effect and these show among other things that:

  • The relationship or bonding between Icelandic fathers and their children is significantly better than in countries where there is no paternity leave.
  • Father’s generally make use of their rights and it is now socially well acceptable for fathers to be at home with their children – 90% of fathers have used their entitlements of paternity leave or 82 days on average in this system. (this was when the paternity part was three months)
  • Father’s usage of the leave is supporting other changes such as more equal division of household tasks and the labour market participation of men and women.
  • The law has contributed to a more equal standing of men and women in the labour market.

Other factors within the parental leave system which have also had its effect on equality within the system is the maximum ceiling of payments in parental leave, the higher the ceiling of payments the more likely is that the father will use their quota. Therefore, given that the ceiling is high enough, fathers use their quota and the equal rights enables care for both parents.

Recently there have been some developments within the parental leave system in Iceland based on the experience since 2000. In 2019 the government decided to extend the leave up to 12 months, but the question was how the months should be divided between parents. A comprehensive review of the parental leave system followed and discussion and debate within a committee appointed by the ministry of social affairs and labour with representatives from the unions and organization of employers as well as representatives from the government sector.

In the end, after long and thorough debate in the committee followed by public review and discussion within the Parliament, a bill was accepted in the Parliament providing each parent the right to 6 months parental leave. However, each parent could transfer 6 weeks to the other parent. This legislation took effect 1. January 2021 and the bill was accepted by all voting parties in the Parliament. 

We do not have reliable statistics from the period after the legislation was passed, but preliminary results show that after the recent reform 80% of fathers have taken leave and used their quota, apart from the transferrable 1,5 months which they leave to the mothers. Since parents have 2 years to utilize their parental leave, our statistics are not fully reliable yet.

Grief leave

I also wanted to mention that the Icelandic Parliament passed a legislation on grief leave last June, that will take effect on 1. January 2023. The main aim of the grief leave is to give parents time for grief processing after a loss of a child. The legislation entails the rights of parents to a paid leave from work in order to have a successful return to the labour market as well as to society.

The legislation is based on the parental leave system in Iceland, for ex. regarding payments and time, six months individual right for each parent and 80% of income with a maximum ceiling.

This legislation is to our knowledge a breakthrough in the sense that „parent“ is defined different to other legislation in Iceland, that is, step-parents and others that have had parent responsibilities with a child for more than 12 months before it passes away, also are entitled to paid grief leave. Also, parents can use their grief leave during a period of 24 months. This, to our knowledge, makes the Icelandic grief leave the most progressive one in the world.

The “third-shift”

Lastly, I want to draw your attention to a new research initiative by the Icelandic government. We know that women generally carry out more household tasks than men, and that the pandemic would increase the burden of what is often called “the third-shift” in a two-parent household where both parents work. The Icelandic government has initiated research on this matter so we can fully grasp the scope and impact the “third-shift” is having on women in Icelandic households.

Thank you for your attention.

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