Women’s Day off October 24. 2005
Dear women – onwards, girls!
Today is a very important day, today we stand up against inequality towards women in the labour market, unequal salaries and unequal work situations. Both Icelandic and foreign women are faced with inequality and have fought against this for more than a century.
W.O.M.E.N. celebrate their second birthday today and it was not by chance that we founded our association on the very day that the women’s liberation movement in Iceland had its finest hour in 1975. We are part of this movement and we fight against the inequality which foreign women face. Women of foreign origin have to face a double risk of being subjected to inequality, both due to their nationality and their sex.
The main obstacle for foreign women and the most difficult one to overcome is their lack of knowledge of Icelandic. We don’t all have the means for expensive classes taking place in the evenings after a 10-hour working day teaching us vocabulary which is not connected to our daily life while we can’t even yet fill in the forms to apply for rent funds. As of today, most of us are not familiar enough with their rights and duties in the labour market and if our employer does not tell us everything, we do not have access to the information we need. We see examples of institutions cutting their funds for cleaning services and resorting to simply shift more workload to their foreign cleaning staff while they receive the same wages.
Our women are absolutely dependent on their employers in connection with their work and residence permits for at least three years, which means that a foreign woman cannot take a new job. She will have to accept the conditions offered to her when still in her home-country while she knew nothing about the situation in Iceland, otherwise she runs the risk of being deported according to current labour laws.
Our women are not only on lower wages as men with comparable qualification in the same job, very often, their qualification is not acknowledged. Foreign nurses, for example, only get employed as assistants while doing similar tasks as their Icelandic colleagues.
Foreign women face many problems on the labour market and we shall not keep quiet on those issues, but we are also tired of always hearing the words foreigners and problems in the same breath. We are also here today to celebrate with you and to show that we don’t accept the role of the victims. Foreign women who have come here had to overcome substantial obstacles, they are strong and they have something to offer and I stand in front of you today to tell you about this.
I am grateful for being with you today and for being able to thank you for the support that the women’s movement in Iceland has shown to us and I want to encourage women of all kinds, of all educational backgrounds, of all nationalities and religions, to work together to achieve our goals.
We want free access to Icelandic classes
We want improved labour laws
We want our qualifications acknowledged
And we want a society that does not only see what we are lacking, but instead sees what we have to offer.
We have become a part of this society and of this women’s movement and we stand together in our struggle.
Onwards, girls … we won’t stop before our rights have come to stay.