Copenhagen, 21 May 2019
Statement by Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
It is with gratitude and pride that I stand here today and receive on behalf of my country this recognition for our "uncompromising Quest for Gender Equality" as you so eloquently put it.
I understand that this is the first time a country or its people is granted the Womenomics Honorary Award.
And I say, thank you, we will do our utmost to continue our quest, as this is both a recognition and an encouragement to do better.
Icelanders are fortunate to have seen important progress on gender equality and for a decade our efforts have been recognized by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Due to Iceland’s international reputation as gender champions, gender equality is often the main topic of my meetings with fellow foreign ministers – something I did not expect when I came into office. They want to know how we have achieved this progress.
I give credit first and foremost to the relentless work and determination of the womens’ movement and women pioneers in Iceland. One of them is former President of Iceland, Madam Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, who has been an inspiration to many generations of both men and women.
These women have also been instrumental to promoting and implementing the public policies essential to progress. In Iceland and the Nordic countries, such policies have paved the way for the development of modern family and gender projects, and the explicit promotion of gender equality at home, at work, and in public life.
In my view, universal affordable quality childcare and a generous shared parental leave are perhaps the most important steps taken towards building the legal and social infrastructure necessary for women to fully participate at all levels of society. The paternity leave, with a “use-it-or-lose-it” portion accorded to fathers has been a game-changer, both in the public and the private sphere. It already has facilitated a paradigm shift in Iceland, and it has further strengthened deep-rooted values of democracy in the Icelandic society, for the benefit of both men and women.
This year, it would appear that all roads lead not to Rome but to Reykjavik. Iceland has assumed the chairmanship of the Nordic cooperation and on the Board of the World Bank, representing the Nordic-Baltic constituency and since last year, Iceland is a member of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Gender equality is a common theme in all these roles and shows clearly that we will put gender issues on the agenda whenever and wherever possible. Gender issues are already in our DNA in the Nordic countries, as reflected in the fact that gender mainstreaming is common practice in the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the Nordic foreign ministers usually speak with one voice on gender in international fora.
This is important, because the struggle for true gender equality is far from over. We need good role models, we need success stories and we need to protect and promote women’s human rights and the empowerment of women internationally.
It is also my strong believe that the inclusion of men is essential. If men are largely missing from the debate on equality, we are playing with only half the team.
This morning, some of you were among the 100 people who attended the Barbershop Conference organized by Above and beyond, our hosts here today. Unlike most gender equality events, most participants were men: private sector CEOs, politicians and decision makers from the public sector.
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, and the Icelandic Parliament, to name but a few, have participated in Barbershops.
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 become agents of change.
I believe this was the sixth Barbershop event I participate in, which I consider a training camp of a sort. It is 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. And it works, it is an eye-opener for a lot of men.
Next Barbershop will be held next month within the West Nordic cooperation in Tórshavn Faroe Islands, focusing on Mobilizing men and boys for gender equality and Gender Equality in the workplace.
Dear colleagues and friends,
The Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdóttir, recently gave a very thought-provoking lecture at the London School of Economics where she reminded students that this year marks the 150th anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s famous essay, The Subjection of Women. The essay describes the urgent need of moving away from the legal subordination of one sex to the other and towards the principle of perfect equality.
At the current rate, gender equality will not be reached until the year 2133 according a UN assessment. That means we need new strategies since the world cannot afford to wait.
A recent study by the World Bank (introduced 30 May 2018) found that countries are losing billions in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. Another report, presented by the OECD last year, reveals that promoting gender equality is likely to carry several benefits for societies and economies. Societies that are more gender-equal tend to be happier, healthier, more trusting and have more prosperous economies.
Gender equality has proven to be good for business as pointed out in many studies. Companies that are led by women or have diverse management teams and boards do better and are more profitable.
The theme today is: "Accelerate Gender Diversity & Explore Female-Driven Growth Potential", with a focus on how to increase diversity in management and better understand the opportunities of the global female economy.
Despite Iceland's achievements in the broad sence women sometimes hit the glass ceiling when it comes to highest positions on the private market.
This is where we need to embrace the female-riven growth potential. I hope to hear about successes in the course of the day, and hopefully take home with me strategies that will help us break the glass ceiling.
This is where we need to embrace the female-driven growth potential. I hope to hear about successes in the course of the day, and hopefully take home with me strategies that will help us break the glass ceiling.
A couple of years ago, world leaders agreed to a new agenda, Agenda 2030 and the Global Goals. It provides a blueprint for how we can work together for a sustainable future and right now, all of our countries are hard at work figuring out how to implement those goals. I mention this here because all of you hold a position of power and influence.
The equal participation of women at all levels, the respect for women‘s human rights and the empowerment of women will be fundamental to our success in reaching all the Global goals. Because half of our human
resources are women, who, given the opportunity, will make our societies wealthier, healthier and better in every way.
When I make the case for gender equality internationally, I always point to how it benefits us men. Men in gender equal societies tend to live longer and such societies are both more prosperous and more peaceful. This resonates with all men as well as women.
As a final word:
Honoured Womenomics Award Committee, let me reiterate my gratitude for the honour you show Iceland. I wish you a productive meeting.
Thank you for your attention.