Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Statement at the OECD Barbershop Conference, engaging men for gender equality

Barbershop Conference
OECD, Paris
2 October 1, 2018

Statement by
H.E. Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for being with us today at this Barbershop conference. It shows that you are dedicated to gender equality and that you are willing to be a part of the change.

It has been a man’s world for a long time and now it’s time that it becomes a gender equal world.

I was raised by a strong mother who worked full time when most mothers worked part-time or stayed at home. My father was the caring type who usually made us dinner. I didn’t realize it until later how progressive my family really was.

A lot has changed since I was growing up, but there is still room for improvement. In Iceland for example we have come a long way and we have a great record as one of the most gender equal countries in the world.

We had the first democratically elected female head of state almost 40 years ago, madame Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She has been an inspiration to my generation and others, both to men and women. She probably inspired my current boss, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leading our government. 

Still, complicated challenges remain, both in Iceland and in other parts of the world. In Iceland, we have put in place laws to ensure equal representation in boards but the action is yet to be translated into more female CEOs. We also have a new law to enforce a decade old legislation on equal pay, but we still need to address the labour market segregation that contributes largely to the absolute gender pay gap. If we want to close the gap, we need to change social norms. We must ensure equal opportunities and an equal chance to make the most of them, regardless of gender.

It never occurred to me to think of women as any less capable than men. And as men sometimes do, I found a partner who, just like my mother, is a strong hard-working woman; an entrepreneur. 

Together we are raising four amazing children, two girls and two boys. I have also become a grandfather to a baby girl. I truly am a rich man. Despite my sometimes hectic life as a politician I make every effort to be there for my family. We are a close family and just like my dad, my favourite time is when I have the chance to cook the Sunday roast at our home for the whole family. This is one benefit of gender equality – we men get to be equal in the home and in our families.

I am not advocating for gender equality solely for my mother, my wife, my daughters or my granddaughter. We know from our experience that gender equality brings benefits to all of us. Also to men. 

Various studies show that more gender equality equals a happier, healthier life for everyone. I often say that men should work hard to build a gender equal society so that they can live longer to be able to enjoy a few more games of soccer over a pint of beer. But that’s just a joke of course – health and happiness are indeed worth striving for. 

Equal participation also translates to a more sustainable peace – when you include women in peace processes, you are both more likely to reach an agreement to end the conflict and to sustain that peace.

For many years the parliament has been my workplace. There I have had the good fortune of working with inspiring men and women from across the political spectrum. In my experience, it has improved the political debate to have a more equal representation. 

In politics I have had great female mentors and I have also gotten the chance to guide many aspiring women. Such respectful communication between men and women are genuinely enriching. 

We have had a Barbershop conference in the parliament. It opened up a dialogue between men and women on what we could do better. I think our discussion was quite eye-opening and that is what I hope for our session here today. 

At this Barbershop conference today, we are taking a small step but an important one. Our 90 minutes session will not bring gender equality to the entire world, but it is important to look closer to home, at the culture within the OECD. 

Today we want to look at the OECD as a workplace and as a place that has an influence on policy-making in a large part of the world. Iceland is already working on the policy side with the OECD, sharing our experience and learning from others. 

In our discussion we will hopefully exchange views and have frank conversations and in the process we will better understand ourselves and our peers. 

I wish you a fruitful discussion and a sharp Barbershop.

Thank you.


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