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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Opening address at Womenomics Barbershop conference

Opening address of Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Barbershop 21 May 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to see so many of you here today. It is not that common yet to attend a gender equality event where most participants are men. But let me assure you, most of us have found the Barbershop events to be an eye-opener!

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

Today we will focus on the critical role men can play as partners with women in moving the gender equality agenda forward.

The aim of the Barbershop talks is to raise awareness among men, to stress their role, responsibilities as well as opportunities. Its purpose is to motivate men and boys to commit to upholding gender equality and discuss how men can instead become agents of change.

The first Barbershop event was co-convened by the UN and the permanent representations of Iceland and Suriname to the UN, held at the United Nations in New York in January 2015.

Since then some 2400 people, within organizations such as ILO, WTO, NATO, OSCE, the European Parliament, OECD, the World Bank Group and the Icelandic Parliament, to name but a few, have participated in Barbershops.

I believe this is the sixth Barbershop event I participate in, which I consider this a training camp of sorts. Its designed to equip men with the tools they need in order to take on an active role in achieving equality. This is what the Barbershop is all about.

Dear friends,

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 of Iceland, Althingi and at the Foreign Ministry. 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.

I wish you a fruitful discussion and a sharp Barbershop.

Thank you.


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