13. Iceland has a special legislation on gender equality (The Act on the equal status and rights of women and men no. 10/2008, Gender Equality Act) and Iceland claimed the top spot of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2009. Also the Icelandic Parliament has passed a law on gender quotas on corporate boards, companies with more than 50 employees must have at least 40% of both genders represented on their boards by September 2013. In spite of all this, absolute equality has not been achieved and the gender pay gap is still considerable. A survey conducted in 2008 on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security showed an overall gender pay gap of 16.3%. A more recent survey conducted by VR, a trade union in the private sphere, and St.Rv. and SFR trade unions in the public sphere, show an overall pay gap of 11% which is an increase from last year.5
14. The gender pay gap in Iceland has been researched a great deal over the years; most of the researches show an unexplained pay gap. Some have concluded the gender segregated labour market in Iceland to be the main reason for the gender pay gap and that the percentage pay rises in the collective agreements only maintain the gap. In the public sphere, research has shown that the difference in wages for women and men is not so much as regards basic wages; it is rather shown in various supplementary payments where men are more likely to get overtime payments and perks.6
15. A temporary stipulation, (art. IV.), in the Gender Equality Act stated that the Minister (of Welfare) should in cooperation with the Social Partners’ organisations, develop, before January 1 2010, a special certification system on the implementation of wage equality policies and equality in employment (regarding hiring and layoffs). This is still a work in progress. There is also a special committee developing a special standard, which could be used as a base of the above mentioned certification. The development and the cooperation between various stakeholders have taken longer than expected and the committee is still working.7
16. Understandably most good things take time, the Government is however encouraged to speed up this work so that the standard and certification policy can be put to use as soon as possible.
17. According to the Government report (Paras 25-28) the new Gender Equality Act ensures for the Centre for Gender Equality (CGE), a more powerful supervisory role with wider authority. This is all well and good but the fact is that adequate resources have not followed this wider role and actions accorded to the CGE by the new Act. It may be concluded that without enough financial resources it is difficult for the CGE to be able to adequately carry out their monitoring of e.g. gender equality committees in municipalities and gender equality policies of companies, as well as to carry out work against gender-based wage discrimination and to be able to serve as a supervisory body seeking to investigate in areas where it believes that provisions of the Act have been breached.
18. ICEHR urges the Government to render the CGE more financial resources so that it can adequately fulfil all its functions according to the Act on Gender Equality. This is especially urgent in view of the Centre possibly being given an extended role as an overall equality body on all grounds of discrimination.
19. The Complaints Committee on Gender Equality operates on the basis of the Gender Equality Act. The Committee considers cases brought before it concerning alleged violations of the Gender Equality Act. This means that the Committee plays the same role as before, but under the new law it delivers a binding decision on whether or not the Gender Equality Act has been violated. Previously, the Committee could only deliver a non-binding opinion. These measures seek to give added weight to the Committee’s decisions. The Committee is an independent administrative committee – neither the Minister nor any other authority can give the Committee binding instructions regarding the outcome of a case. The Committee’s decisions are final, and they cannot be referred to any other administrative authority. However, parties to a case brought before the Committee may refer its decision to a court of law. In that case the Committee can decide to postpone the obligation to comply with the decision on the request of either party.
20. However, it is debatable how much weight and influence decisions of the Committee really have. Recent practice has shown that although the Committee finds that a governmental authority has violated the Gender Equality Act, the courts do not always agree and most often the governmental authority refers the Committee’s decision to a court rather than accepting it as is and pay the complainant a settlement.
21. In the Government report, Paragraph 32, it is mentioned that according to the new Act each ministry is required to appoint a gender equality expert to mainstream gender equality within its sphere and the institutions within its auspices. Article 13 of the Act specifically states that these experts should have expert knowledge of equality issues and according to the general budget for the year 2008 these gender equality experts were supposed to work fulltime on the issue and 80 million ISK were allotted for this purpose, so that all the ministries could meet with this requirement. But so far only two ministries have a gender equality expert working fulltime on gender equality and other ministries have assigned this to staff to take these matters on in addition to their other assignments. Very few or even none of these people working on gender equality have expert knowledge in this area. However, yet again insufficient funds seem to be allotted to this purpose. As regards the funds allotted to this purpose they seem insufficient and insubstantial. As ministries, except for the Prime Ministry, had not priory used their money to hire the experts when the banks went under in October 2008, the money was used for other purposes. Since then, it has become evident that it is hard to meet with the stipulations of the Act without the availability of adequate financial resources.
22. Recently, there have also been some very positive developments regarding gender equality. The Government report (Paras 36-37) mentions that the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security (now Minister of Welfare) is expected to present a motion for a Parliamentary resolution before Parliament regarding the implementation of a gender equality action plan. In May 2011 such a plan was presented and adopted by the Parliament. The action plan is valid for four years or from 2011- 2014. The Government has also, slowly but surely, been introducing gender budgeting into their policy, and last year 19 experimental projects, divided between all the ministries, were aimed at gender equality. All ministries now follow a three-year plan implementing Gender Budgeting and Gender Responsive Budgeting.
23. Gender based violence/violence in close relationships is a persistent problem in Iceland that has been exacerbated by the economic crisis. More women seek assistance at the Women’s Shelter, the Police and other assistance organizations. Latest statistics from the Women’s Shelter, a leading NGO providing shelter for women subject to violence in close relationships, show that 2011 was a very busy year for the Shelter. In 2011 a total of 174 women and children fled their homes and sought residence in the Shelter because of violence. This number is consistent with that of previous years, despite last year’s adoption of the so-called “Austrian-way” (Act on Restraining Orders and Expulsion from the Home no. 85/2011), authorizing the police to remove the violent person from his home and moreover bar him from returning home for some time. Although this remedy has only been resorted to once in the past nine months, it nevertheless provides better protection for women and children suffering from violence in close relationships and is, as such, welcomed by ICEHR.
24. A quarter of all women seeking help at the Shelter return home to the same violent situation. Pertinent authorities claim that women hesitate to leave their abusive husbands for fear of not being able to sustain themselves financially. The new Act on Restraining Orders and Expulsion from the Home is designated to make it easier to exercise such measures against violent partners/stalkers and will hopefully make a difference in these cases. One major improvement entailed by the Act is that the police must now make a decision on restraining orders and/or expulsion requests within three days. The request can come from the victims themselves, their family or any other close contacts. If the victim is a child, his or her guardian can make the request as well as the social- or child protection services. In addition, the Chief of police in each police district can on take up a case on his own initiative if he believes it to be necessary. This Act is a great improvement for women and children suffering from domestic violence, but it should nevertheless be kept in mind that the Act is very recent, merely effectuated on 10 June 2011, so there is very little experience of its effectiveness yet. Furthermore, it has been suggested that awareness on the new Act is lacking in most sectors of society, whether it be police, victims or the general public. Also, even if in later years the heightened risk of women and girls with disabilities of becoming victims of domestic violence and abuse has been brought to light by various organisations, there is lack of adequate measures made available to these women and girls.
25 Recently, the Centre for Gender Equality issued a pamphlet aimed at immigrant women in abusive relationships, informing them of their rights as well as those working with these women, social workers etc. Little else has been done to inform immigrant women of their rights (useful information can however be found on the Multicultural and Information Centre‘s website). More has been done to provide them with opportunities to learn the Icelandic language, though many women are hard to reach in order to provide them with information about such courses. NGO‘s have made efforts to reach immigrant women and to further their participation in society, although more must certainly be done.
26. ICEHR encourages the Icelandic Government to educate the police on domestic violence, especially the status of immigrant women and disabled women in such relationships and see to it that the police are also educated on new law amendments like the one mentioned above so that people all over the country will enjoy equal protection.