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Country visit to Iceland

The Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice visited Iceland from 16 to 23 May 2013 at the invitation of the Government, which marked the first visit of Special Procedures to the country.

The Working Group acknowledged that Iceland has, over four decades, developed a legal and policy framework for achieving full gender equality, based on a vibrant women’s movement, political will of successive governments and high levels of women’s participation in parliament and government. Legislation in the 1970s established equal status for women and men, institutionalizing gender mainstreaming, prohibiting discriminatory advertising and prioritising prevention of gender-based violence. It introduced a 40 percent quota in State and municipal bodies, extended, in 2010, to companies, with a potentially transformative impact on women’s corporate leadership.

Iceland is world leader in measures to balance work and family life, providing paid leave of three months for mothers, three for fathers and three shared (now amended to 5:5:2). It maintained this gender balance throughout the financial crisis.

During the financial crisis, Iceland adopted a gender sensitive policy to preserve public service jobs, thus preserving women’s jobs and public services on which families are dependent. The Government activated gender budgeting and established “Gender Watch” to monitor the impact of austerity measures on women’s wellbeing.

The Working Group nonetheless observed the persistence of a gender wage gap and job market segregation, with women concentrated in low-paid public service jobs, mostly nursing and teaching. The Group also noted with concern the high incidence of gender-based violence; lack of specific legislation targeting domestic violence; ineffectiveness of protection orders, a narrow definition of rape; and significant disparities in reporting, investigation, prosecution, conviction and sentencing. It urges reform to improve prevention, prosecution and punishment of gender-based violence in the criminal justice system and gender-sensitive capacity building for law enforcement officials and judges.

The Working Group formulated a number of recommendations in the report on this official visit. It recommended, inter alia, the adoption of the anti-discrimination bill and synchronization of residence and work permits for women whose residence permits are based on marriage, in order to enable women of foreign origin to participate fully in economic, social, public and political life, the Group recommends.