I’m a few shivers into an Icelandic getaway and am very much enjoying my broke-student-recklessly-traveling-to-a-foreign-country-over-fall-break decision. The weather is magnificent. Mind you, it’s 30 degrees below the current North Carolina temperature and the wind chill could freeze your face off. But, baby, this is it.
When I met Guðrún Jónsdóttir in Iceland back in June, I immediately loved her warmth, brilliance and charisma. She is the spokeswoman for Stígamót, an anti-violence counseling and education center in Reykjavik, Iceland and I was interviewing her for my summer project at the time, so when she invited me to an international feminist conference in October, how could I say no? I pulled Annie in with me and off we were.
Even on the plane ride, women’s rights were featured and we were so excited!! COME ON: infomercials on the plane about efforts the airline is making in the world of increasing the number of women pilots? Icelandair rocks. Then we get there and go into a coffeeshop — there is a sticker on the window pronouncing it as a supporting member of the Icelandic association of women entrepreneurs. Annie and I decide we’re going to start trending #equality for everything.
Iceland’s got it all. Except palm trees.
Only, it’s that semblance of equality. With Iceland rating number one for two years in a row on the gender equality index, you would think it would have low rates of gender-based violence and have nearly equal wages for men and women. Not so. The wage gap is huge, and this past summer doing interviews with feminists in Iceland, one woman told me, “Yes, we leave our babies sleeping in their baby carriages outside in the streets and we are not worried. We trust each other. We know no one is going to take our babies. The street is not dangerous.” But the home is dangerous, she continues. Rates of incest, domestic violence, and sexual assault — particularly acquaintance assault– are just as high in Iceland as most other countries. That semblance.
Like when Annie and I headed over to the University of Iceland to peruse their book store, Annie animatedly noticed how each department at the university has a “gender equality adviser.” I tell her that I learned from professors and administrators over the summer that such advisers are controversial and often ineffective. Often, individuals with little knowledge of gender issues are placed in those roles simply to fulfill the requirement that the department have one. It leads to frustration among the faculty who actually care about gender equality and those faculty members spend more time fighting the gender equality adviser than actually furthering rights for their students.
Still, the beautiful thing about Iceland is the creativity and dialogue despite the shortcomings. Despite the fact that they too have not achieved #equality, there is a contagious energy and brimming excitement in the women. There is always someone fighting and talking, someone leading with a strong hand held high and demanding change. That’s why we’re here. Demanding change.
An example of the fabulous dialogue happened upon us Thursday afternoon when Annie and I stumbled into an art exhibit in the Museum of Reykjavik. A Nordic artist Gardar Eide Einarsson who paints and challenges violence, abuse, manipulation, and social control was being featured in the museum and just as we walked in, the exhibit was about to be opened by the Norwegian ambassador to Iceland. So we grabbed a few glasses of wine, listened to the ambassador talk, chatted him up afterward, and then trotted off to see what the artist had to show us. The art dramatically, yet simply, and with incredible understated significance stripped away the outermost layers of society to reveal the stark brutality underneath. Portraying the deep conflicts in our world– police crimes to terrorism to hate to stainless steel– the movement of the exhibit was raw but intellectual, thought-provoking but immediately intuitive, the kind that kicks you in the gut but leaves you feeling good somehow. I liked it and Annie and I couldn’t believe how everything around always ties into the issues we work with– no matter where we go, we’re finding discussion around violence and gender equality. That’s the way we like it… keep thinking, keep talking.
Finally, today we went for a visit to see Guðrún at Stígamót for the open house, ate Icelandic smoked meats, and talked, listened, laughed. The stories that come from that place are always magnificent and hope-filled. You wouldn’t believe they are working with brutalized women and men all day every day of the year. Or maybe you would believe it. Sometimes the people who’ve seen the worst of life are those who have the most deep-founded hope. To add to the joyous occasion, about halfway through the open house, a group of Norwegian women burst through the door with their arms held high shouting, “We come from Norway!!” Thus the title of this post. Finally, Annie and I left with new ideas from them to bring home to campus–and there will be more on that to come!
The last thing we did was go to the open house for a women’s shelter and met an anti- human trafficking lobbiest from Sweden and the director of a women’s shelter in Denmark. The director of the women’s shelter liked me and Annie so much she invited us to Denmark. “Can you come next week?” she asked. Annie and I decided we need to quit school and just focus on changing the world. Sound like a plan?