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Icelandic Women in Politics Share Experiences of Sexism

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Icelandic Women in Politics Share Experiences of Sexism

Kastljós í skuggi valdsins

Photo: A screenshot from RÚV.

Around 500 Icelandic women in politics have joined a private Facebook group created last Friday to share experiences of gender-based discrimination in their work environment, RÚV reports. The group is called “Í skugga valdsins” (In the Shadow of Power), and to date over 100 stories of gender-based discrimination and sexual assault have been shared within it.

Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, vice-chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance, created the group on Friday night. She appeared on talk show Kastljós (Spotlight) last night alongside Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, vice-chairman of the Independence Party, and Hanna María Sigmundsdóttir, former Progressive Party MP, to discuss the group.

The idea to start the group was sparked by a similar movement in Sweden. Within 24 hours, stated Heiða Björg, stories had come forth from women in all political parties, and they have continued to pour in. The stories vary from women who describe entering their work environment to be like entering “a man’s space” where men have “written the rules of the game,” to stories of inappropriate comments and sexual assault. Heiða Björg states she does not know how Iceland compares to Norway or Sweden in the magnitude of gender-based discrimination in politics, but believes “it’s a discussion that we have to have.”

Hanna María was 21 when she was elected to parliament in 2013 and served as an MP until 2016. She spoke of her own experience of receiving comments such as how she should smile more or not cover up so much if she wanted to get further in politics. At first she thought the comments were directed to her because she was new to politics, but was surprised to find “they just didn’t stop.”

Áslaug Arna spoke of receiving unwanted sexual comments, stating it to be “tedious, difficult, and hurtful” but thus far “has been a part of being in politics.” She added that men have implied she has not earned her position due to her skill in politics, rather received it for having sexual relations with men in her party. “It’s common and it’s something we hear often,” Áslaug stated.

In response to the question of why many women remain silent about their experiences, Heiða Björg suggests they are aware that coming forward may hurt their careers, as well as their party, whose success they are invested in.

All three women agreed that the issue spans across party lines and touched on the importance of creating an environment where women and men have equal opportunity and everyone feels comfortable and safe. Heiða Björg concluded by adding “we want people to be able to come in [to politics] based on what they have to offer, not based on how they look.”

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