The Impressive Legacy of Icelandic Women

Icelandic Women

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    We are all unique individuals, but every country has its traditions, culture, and specific characteristics that help make us who we are. When it comes to Icelandic women, they are pretty impressive.

    Coming from a long line of Viking women known to have joined their men on the battlefield, Icelandic women have impacted and made a lasting impression on various industries and fields worldwide. This article delves into what makes the Icelandic female so formidable.

    What are Icelandic Women Like?

    Once again, we cannot speak on behalf of all Iceland women and Iceland girls, but, in general, our women are known for their beauty, creativity, strength, and being fiercely independent.

    The Role of Our Country’s Culture

    We believe that a lot of credit can be given to our country for creating such incredible women. Gender equality has been something that’s embedded into Icelandic culture. Just as a warrior’s wife could fight alongside him in battle, Icelandic women walk alongside Icelandic men today on an equal basis. Whether looking for work, receiving a salary, or having a voice as to how things are run and done – men and women are on equal par.

    Icelandic women role

    Cultural Influences

    When one takes a look at specifics, there are certain things in the Icelandic culture that foster strong and independent women:


    In addition to making education accessible to all, irrespective of gender, Icelandic schools also provide gender equality training to their teachers and pupils. These open discussions bring about awareness and change.

    Family Dynamics

    The old saying “education begins at home” applies here in Iceland. Parents are no longer raising young men and women based on old stereotypes. We actively try not to repeat old patterns such as “blue is for boys, and pink is for girls”, or “boys get tools, and the girl gets a Barbie”. 

    Gender equality means not restricting anyone and their potential by placing them in a box from an early age. Everyone has the right to wear whatever they want, to be whatever they want, and to enjoy whatever they want.

    Societal Expectations

    Whether at school or at home, children are taught to break through gender stereotypes, and seeing boys play with gender-neutral dolls or wearing nail polish is not treated as something odd or strange. 

    The Icelandic government is consistently increasing its research into gender and equality studies, and even employers try to promote jobs with a gender-neutral classification. In general, the societal expectations of women in Iceland today are far removed from the traditional homemaker and stay-at-home mother.

    Iceland gender equality

    The Historical Context and Evolution of Icelandic Women’s Rights

    Icelandic women have a long history of independence and strength, leaving quite formidable footsteps for other women of the world to follow. From Viking shield maidens fighting next to their men on the battlefields and being able to divorce their husbands if they so chose to the inspiring modern leaders we have in various fields today, Icelandic women have definitely left their mark on the world. 

    But what were the women’s rights milestones that got us here in the first place? What did the evolution of Icelandic women’s rights look like? Take a look at the extensive timeline below:


    Iceland grants equal inheritance rights to women and men.


    Iceland grants women the right to vote in local and parish elections. (It’s worth noting that this was miles ahead of the rest of the world’s thinking, considering that US women were only allowed to start voting in the 1920s).


    Iceland grants women equal access rights. This means that they can no longer be restricted in public spaces or be refused a place in office or at institutions of education.


    Iceland grants women over the age of 40 the right to vote in national elections.

    Women's rights


    Iceland reached an agreement with Denmark in which any/all voting restrictions on women are lifted. While already reached in 1918, the agreement only came into full effect in 1920.


    During the Icelandic Women’s Strike, awareness of Icelandic women and their rights was again created and highlighted.


    Iceland passes the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men.


    Iceland revamps the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men to include all paradigms of modern society.


    Iceland passes the equal pay for equal work law.


    Iceland leveled the playing field of equality even further by passing the Parental Leave Act, which gives both parents, irrespective of gender, up to three months of paid parental leave.   

    Iceland parental leave

    Iceland’s Gender Equality: A Comparison with Global Standards

    As we already mentioned, Iceland has been miles ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to gender equality. In 2023, Iceland ranked first in the World Economic Forum (WEF) for gender equality. This would make it the 14th year in a row that Iceland claimed the top spot. 

    According to the Global Gender Gap Index, Iceland has a score of 0.91 with the country’s gender gap having been closed over 90% already. A gender gap score is measured according to the following four pillars:

    • Educational attainment
    • Economic participation and opportunity
    • Political empowerment
    • Health and survival 

    This is what the global landscape of gender equality looks like among the best in the world:

    Number 1



    Number 2



    Number 3



    Number 4

    New Zealand


    Number 5



    Countries such as the UK and the US did not even make it into the top 20. And just to put these statistics even more into perspective, the country that ranks last when it comes to gender equality (and should come as no surprise based on their predominant cultural and religious beliefs) is Afghanistan at 43.5%.

    Equality in Iceland

    The Economic Contributions of Icelandic Women

    Icelandic women are not only a force to be reckoned with in their communities but also play a vital role in Iceland’s economy. By 2023, more than 70% of females aged 15 and up had already entered the labor force here in Iceland. This is astounding compared to the global average of just under 50%.

    In a country that’s had a female president for many years, it’s also undisputable that women here take on important leadership roles. And although women are still the minority when it comes to upper management of larger companies, about 37% are on the board of directors for companies with 100-249 employees, and about 40% are on the board of directors for companies with more than 250 employees. Being at the helm of businesses like that means indirectly being at the helm of a country’s economy. 

    Challenges and Criticisms

    Although Iceland is at the forefront when it comes to gender equality, there are still a few things that can do with some improvement:

    Wage Gaps & Bias Risk Assessment for Financial Services

    The average wage gap between men and women in Iceland is still an average of 21%. And when it comes to things such as insurance, the disparity grows to almost 30%.

    Underrepresentation in Certain Sectors

    Women also still represent the majority of the workforce in low-paid public service jobs, while men still dominate fields such as engineering, manufacturing, and construction.

    Societal Pressures

    Once again, despite Iceland being miles ahead of the crowd, you will always find some societal pressures, whether it’s the remnants of old ideology still plaguing a woman’s mind (leading to things such as mother’s guilt) or external pressures from those who still promote the old-school gender ideology, especially when it comes to some of the older generations. 

    Iceland pay gap

    What’s the Future Outlook for Icelandic Women When it Comes to Gender Equality?

    With the Icelandic government continuously investing in further research and education surrounding gender equality, Iceland is planning on constantly improving the situation and keeping the top spot on the global gender equality index. 

    Key Moments & Women Who Shape Our Nation

    If we had to mention every moment and every woman who positively impacts and contributes to Iceland and the rest of the world, we would fill a library, not just an article. But here are just a few examples of acts showcasing what Icelandic women are made of:

    Icelandic Women’s Day Off

    Iceland hasn’t always been as focused on modern-day equality as it is today, and in 1975, Icelandic women decided to change that. Out of the roughly 118,000 Reykjavík locals, 25,000 women gathered in the city center in protest, demanding equal job opportunities and equal pay.

    We wish we could say that this Women’s Day Off magically changed everything, but it had to be repeated in 1985, 2005, 2010, and 2016 before an equal pay policy was officially adopted and legalized in 2016. Without the actions of these Icelandic women, we might not have the level of equality we have in the country today.  

    The Beauty Queen and Sports Legend That Said “No!”

    Arna Yr Jonsdottir is a local sports legend and is part of our national athletics team. But in 2015, she also became Miss Iceland and went on to compete in international beauty pageants.

    It was during one such pageant that she was told that she was “too fat to win” and that she had to “give up eating breakfast” and just “stick to water and salad”. Needless to say, these comments didn’t fly with our Icelandic beauty. She quit the pageant in protest of the body shaming women are subjected to and made international news because of it.

    Our Breastfeeding Member of Parliament

    There is a strange bias and sometimes subconscious worldview that women are there to support men’s careers and that their contribution is to work in the household and birthing the next generation. Well, our member of parliament, Unnur Bra Konradsottir, made it very clear to the world that those days are a thing of the past and women today indeed can have and do it all.

    While delivering her speech in local parliament, defending a bill, she also breastfed her baby girl. Not many Icelanders batted an eye, but when footage circulated around the world, she made international news and was praised for her unapologetically being both a career woman and a mother.  

    The Annual Slut Walk, aka Druslugangan

    If you’re a woman and you’ve had enough of hearing how the way you dress makes the difference on whether you’re raped or not, you’re not alone. That’s why Icelandic girls walk the Slut Walk in their thousands each year.

    The Walk is held in Reykjavík each year, begins at Hallgrimskirkja, and ends at Arnarholl Hill, where you have a few local musical acts performing. All women doing the Walk wear their “sluttiest” outfits as a statement proclaiming that it’s not a woman’s outfit that’s the cause of rape, but a lack of self-control and depravity on the men’s part.

    Our Female President

    We’ve been hearing about the possible historic event of Hillary Clinton becoming female president since 2016 when Iceland already made history many, many years ago. Vigdis Finnbogadottir was president of Iceland for 16 years, from 1980 to 1996, making her the world’s longest-serving president. To this day, she is considered to be one of the best leaders Iceland has ever had.

    An All-female Rap Group

    To say that rap is a male-dominated music genre would be an understatement. Yet, somewhere amongst the Eminems and Coolios of the world, Reykjavikurdætur came into existence.

    The name translates to ‘Reykjavík’s daughters’, and they are a major inspiration to Icelandic girls. These women do not wear scantily clad clothes or fake nails and hair to be taken seriously in the music industry, and their music also tackles difficult subjects women have to deal with, whether personal, political, or in society at large.

    Our Oscar-winner

    Hildur Gudnadottir won the Oscar for Best Original Score for Joker in 2019. This was a significant achievement since she was only the fourth woman ever to win the award in the history of the Academy Awards. She also won a BAFTA for Best Original Music and a Golden Globe for Best Original Score. Here, she also made history as the first and only woman ever to win both!

    Icelandic Women: Impressive Women Inspiring Others

    With so many women making a stance, creating change, and simply adding to the overall development of the world, it’s hard not to find at least one Iceland woman one can be inspired and look up to (whether you’re male or female). So, when you’ve rented a campervan in Iceland and you’re driving around the island, just remember all the strong Icelandic women that helped shape the country you see today.

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