Being a woman in the 21st century should be quite great, taking into consideration all the fights for equality women have won throughout history. Yet, there are still certain battles and stereotypes to be fought in order to create a society of respect and equal rights for everyone, and women from Iceland seem to know just how to do this.
False gender expectations
From their early years of childhood, girls are taught to be quieter, to not engage in demanding physical activities, and to be more demure altogether. They wear pink skirts and ribbons, play with dolls and learn how to cook, knit, and do other household chores. They are more encouraged to take care of their looks and not to aspire to achieve great things and take leadership roles.
Their teenage years are wasted in useless struggles to conform to the impossible beauty standards imposed by the media and in trying to reach this unachievable ideal of a perfect woman.
Just when they reach a certain level maturity and gain confidence, new challenges arrive at work. Many fall victim to sexual assaults or feel underappreciated while still earning less than men in the same positions. When they start a family, there is a constant juggle between excelling at work and taking care of the entire family.
The problem is deeply rooted and programmed in each person’s mind from the moment we are born. Therefore, if we want to take responsibility for creating a better social environment for future generations, we must start from the foundation, which is family, and continue through the educational system in order to create healthy environment where both genders will thrive.
The Iceland model seems quite successful, taking into consideration that it is a country with 80% of women working, 65% female students, and 40% female MPs. A truly inspiring educational approach in Iceland serves as not only an example of female empowerment, but a human one, as it is not concerned with teaching children how to be typically male or female, but how to be fully independent and strong individuals.
As Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir, the founder of Laufásborg nursery school in Reykjavik tells the Guardian, “We are training [our girls] to use their voice. We are training them in physical strength. We are training them in courage.”
Raising their voices
Another great lesson we can take from Icelandic women is how to teach children to fight for their rights. This particularly affects girls as they are stereotypically the “weaker” gender and are taught to be quiet and not to stand up for themselves.
As a protest against gender pay gap, thousands of Icelandic women left work 14% percent early on Monday, October 25, 2016 to show dissatisfaction with being paid 14% less than men. In doing so, they serve as role models for future generations of women and men who will understand that both genders are equal and, as such, are indispensable to society.
Lessons on respect
There is a lot more to be learned from this country and passed down to our children about respecting one another. Iceland has a history of female rights movements that started in 1975 with 90% of its female working and domestic population taking to the streets to show dissatisfaction with unequal pay rates and the small percentage of women in the parliament. These movements created a social climate where five years into the future, Iceland became the first country in the world to have a democratically elected female president.
As years went by, new legislation concerning gender equality was passed, placing Iceland at the top of World Economic Forum’s gender gap index. Yet, they won’t stop there. There is still a fight for equal pay to be won.
Other countries should start copying the Iceland model in education and women empowerment. Parents should also do their part in teaching children of both genders that we are all born as equals, that we contribute equally to society, and that, as such, we should all be paid equally and have equal chances and opportunities to realize our potential.
Educating children how to aspire towards a world without stereotypes or inequality will eventually lead to a better social climate for everyone, where fulfilled and respected women and men will create a more promising society.
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