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Episode 4

The day the women went on strike

The day the women went on strike

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In October 1975, the women of Iceland took a “day off”. It led to national chaos, and highlighted the importance of unpaid care work in the economy. In this episode, Caroline asks whether the pandemic could be the shock we need to fix what’s perhaps the greatest gender data gap of all

Caroline Criado Perez: We have seen our first Icelandic man pushing a pushchair. And it’s also the first pushchair we’ve seen.

Hannah Varrall: Yes!

Caroline: So, the first pushchair we’ve seen was being pushed by a man. I think that definitely says something.

Hannah: That counts, tick.

Caroline: Definitely counts.

Caroline, narrating: My producer, Hannah and I are roaming the streets of Reykjavík in Iceland, looking for evidence of the country’s famously feminist men.

Hannah: We should have stopped and interviewed him.

Caroline: Yeah. How do you feel about being such an evolved human being?

Caroline, narrating: We’re not just here to spot men with pushchairs. We’re here because 47 years ago this month, something incredible happened. The women of Iceland went on strike.

Guðrún Hallgrímsdóttir: This is the square.

Hannah Varrall: This is where it happened?

Guðrún: Yeah.

Caroline, narrating: This is Guðrún, one of the organisers of the strike. We are standing with her and one of her fellow agitators, Lilja, in Lækjartorg Square in the centre of Reykjavík.

Guðrún: We didn’t have these trees in those days, but we saw first the banners, you know and then the people. It was so great to see them coming from, walking here down…

Caroline, narrating: On the 24th of October 1975, 90% of Icelandic women did no paid work; and they also did no unpaid work. The Women’s Day Off, as it was called at the time, caused chaos.

I’m Caroline Criado Perez and this is Visible Women, my weekly podcast from Tortoise investigating how we finally fix a world designed for men. This week we’re looking at perhaps the greatest gender data gap of all, our failure to measure unpaid care work. We’re asking, could Covid be what it takes for us to start recognising the importance of this work to the global economy?

Some estimates suggest that unpaid care work could account for up to 50% of GDP in high income countries and as much as 80% of GDP in low income countries. According to one Australian study, care work generates almost three times as much as finance and insurance, which is currently considered the country’s largest industry. Oh, and who’s actually doing all this unpaid care work? Three quarters of it is done by women.

Guðrún: Please decide where you would like to sit and how you would like to sit…

Caroline, narrating: Guðrún lives in a flat downstairs from her daughter. There are some renovations going on, which I mention because you might hear some drilling or hammering in the background.

Lilja Ólafsdóttir: So shall I start now. My name is Lilja Ólafsdóttir. I’m born ’43. 1943.

Guðrún: My name is Guðrún Hallgrímsdóttir. I’m born in 1941.

Caroline, narrating: I ask Lilja and Guðrún how they came to feminist activism.

Guðrún: In my home my father respected my mother, and my mother respected my father and they were just equal. But we were five sisters and brothers and it was impossible with no kindergarten or nothing for my mother to work. 

Caroline, narrating: When she was a young girl, it was her mother who was doing the childcare and the housework. But Guðrún says she never really noticed gender inequality until she got her first job.

Guðrún: Even the teenager, the boys were paid more than the girls.

Caroline, narrating: Lilja says she noticed that things weren’t quite right at around the same age.

Lilja: … that men and women were not equal. I was furious. What are they saying? What is he saying? He doesn’t have a clue. So I was fighting from the beginning. Rebellious.

Caroline: So when did you two meet each other?

Lilja: That was in the Red Stockings, yes?

Guðrún: I guess yes.

Caroline: So what… when was that?

Lilja: On the first days.

Caroline: When was that?

Lilja: That was um, 1970.

Guðrún: May 1970.

Caroline, narrating: The Red Stockings was a radical feminist movement in Iceland and one of the first things they did was call for women to join in the Labour Day marches. The plan was to walk behind the main parade. But it didn’t go that well.

Lilja: They tried to make the police to stop us. And the police was, they didn’t know what to do and in the end they found out that, well, everybody is free to walk the streets of Reykjavík, so we went.

Caroline: So wait, the leaders of the main march didn’t want you turning up?

Lilja:… didn’t want us to…

Caroline: Why not?

Lilja: I don’t know. I think…

Guðrún: Scared. We were women.

Lilja: I think they thought it was degrading the event, if women were taking part as women.

Guðrún: But thereafter we started and I don’t think we have stopped.

Lilja: No.

Caroline, narrating: Naturally, they started by collecting data about how women were being discriminated against; with lower salaries than men, less secure employment contracts and a serious lack of childcare.

Guðrún: So we started working like scientists making polls, and then we were always making everything very picturesque. We had all these artists with us, so we made huge placards showing the…

Lilja: Graphs and…

Guðrún: With the difference in salaries. So we made everything so visual.

Caroline, narrating: And soon they were agitating for a march of their own.

Guðrún: In January 1975, we organised a fantastic conference with the unions of the lowest paid women in Iceland. It was a great conference with a great pot of soup. 

Caroline: What kind of soup?

Guðrún: Meat soup. Lamb meat soup.

Caroline: Lamb meat, ok.

Caroline, narrating: Many of the women at the meeting with the famous soup were union members and they were the ones who first suggested the idea of a women’s strike. The plan was that women would lay down work for one day.

Guðrún: To point out how much they meant for the working life.

Caroline, narrating: But not everyone was on board.

Guðrún: … and everything became furious.

Lilja: Yeah.

Guðrún: I don’t remember the words they used. This is so ridiculous. And came this clever woman, Valborg Bentsdottir, she laid down so, and said, “Is it the word strike you are so afraid of? Why not call it holiday?”

Lilja: Day off.

Guðrún: Yes. Holiday, day off.

Caroline, narrating: At the time, Guðrún was furious at this climbdown. But in retrospect, she points out it was actually a great idea. Calling it a holiday also meant they got around the laws of organising a strike.

It’s thought that 90% of Icelandic women went on strike that day, with 25,000 turning up to protest in the square. That might not sound like much, but back in 1975, there were only around 219,000 people in the whole of Iceland, which means that one in five of all the women and girls in the whole country turned up. And this caused some problems for the men.

Lilja: There were no kindergartens open, there were no wives at home, so the fathers had to take the kids with them to work. And I think that most working places went on like kindergartens that day.

Caroline, narrating: Lilja tells me how the country ground to a halt and in fact became cut off from the rest of the world. At the time, manual telephone operators were needed to physically plug in connections if someone wanted to make an international call and the operators were generally female. So they were all on strike.

Lilja: So we didn’t have contact with the outer world really.

Guðrún: There was always a young woman sitting at the telephone. Now there was nobody and there was none of the men who knew how to…

Lilja: Companies couldn’t really, yeah, they couldn’t get through…. Just it was a really beautiful day.

Nancy Folbre: There’s actually a long intellectual history to this question of valuing unpaid work. It’s just that it’s been kind of sidelined by the emergence of a very different dominant paradigm of thinking.

Caroline, narrating: This is Nancy Folbre.

Nancy Folbre: I’m a Professor Emerita of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and I direct the programme on gender and care work.

Caroline, narrating: Most of Nancy’s research focuses on measuring and valuing unpaid care, but she has also spent a lot of time trying to make the case for bringing this work into mainstream economic theory.

Nancy Folbre: Well, actually an interesting part of the story starts in the UK in the mid 19th century when the person in charge of one of the early censuses was a physician named William Farr who was really interested in public health. And he, at least in some of the early pre 1851 censuses, counted housewives as an occupation.

Caroline, narrating: But this all changed in the late 19th century.

Nancy Folbre: Economists like Alfred Marshall decided that that was not an appropriate categorisation and that they preferred to categorise housewives as dependents. So there’s literally this nomenclatural debate in which housewives are transformed from being important contributors to the national economy, to being treated as dependents, who are basically kind of a drag on or cost of the larger process of economic growth.

Caroline, narrating: This shift tied in with the emergence of something called neoclassical economics, which is basically our modern way of looking at the economy. This theory assumes that we always act in our own financial interest. It doesn’t account for the decisions we make when we’re hungry or tired or for the things that we do out of love.

Nancy Folbre: One of its central features was to emphasise that the market was the main sign of economic activity. So anything that took place outside the market was non-economic.

Caroline, narrating: And what kind of activity wasn’t part of the market? Naturally, it was the unpaid cooking, cleaning, and caring that was being done almost exclusively by women. Nancy doesn’t think that this shift was a patriarchal conspiracy exactly.

Nancy Folbre: But a kind of almost unconscious reaction to people’s perceived concerns about changes in women’s roles. If you think about it, the very choice of the word dependent is kind of an attempt to parry the notion that women, that housewives as it were, are equal partners and deserve an equal voice in the household, because, after all, they’re dependents. Their husbands and fathers are supporting them. So that sort of contributes to the elevation of patriarchal authority in the home. Yes, you have fewer rights than we do, but that’s because we’re supporting you, that you’re dependent on us.

Caroline, narrating:  This focus on the market to the exclusion of every other type of economic activity persists today. You can see it most clearly in our use of GDP – or, more precisely, in our belief that GDP represents the entirety of the economy. GDP stands for gross domestic product and it represents the total value of goods and services a country produces. Every shoe that’s made and sold, every meal served at a restaurant, every ticket bought to a show and every salary paid all gets counted as GDP.

Nancy Folbre: So it’s really based on a money metric. It doesn’t matter whether they’re good or bad. Whether they think they’re making us better off or worse off. The classic example is the cost of an oil spill increases GDP because you have to spend a lot of money cleaning up after it.

Caroline, narrating: And guess what doesn’t come under GDP? The time spent cooking a meal, doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, caring for children and sick relatives. You know, all that irrelevant stuff. This isn’t to say that GDP isn’t a useful or interesting figure. The problem comes from making it the only figure that matters when we’re measuring the economy.

Nancy Folbre: It’s just very much a sort of socially constructed score card. How well are we doing? Are we better off this year than last year? Are we better off in the US than they are in the UK? GDP gets used as this indicator, even though it’s only relevant to a relatively modest domain of economic life.

Caroline, narrating: For decades now, Nancy has been trying to expand our definition of the economy.

Nancy Folbre: I like to describe care work as a specific activity that involves the production and the development and the maintenance of human capabilities. And the point here is just to call attention to the fact that there is an output and the output isn’t just that other people feel better or feel loved or feel cared for. Yes, that’s really important, but it’s also people are a really important economic resource. And by taking care of them, you’re contributing to our collective capabilities in a way that should be recognised and valued.

Caroline, narrating: There have been some successes, most clearly in the growing popularity of time-use surveys which collect sex disaggregated data on how much time people spend on various types of unpaid work.

Nancy Folbre: Now there’s probably 90 countries that conduct, around the world, that, conduct time-use surveys. I think it’s kind of an unambiguous victory if you look at the proliferation across different countries and the attention that the UN and the European Union and the OECD are paying to unpaid work now is really significant.

Caroline, narrating: The trouble is that even when this time-use data is collected, it’s still not seen as integral to national accounting.

Nancy Folbre: There’s a satellite revolving around the main accounts that provides a quantitative picture of the things that were omitted. So there’s a satellite account for unpaid work and there’s also, in many countries, a satellite account for environmental resources that looks at the depreciation of natural assets and the costs of disruption of ecological processes.

Caroline, narrating: So what we have here is a situation where oil spills are seen as central to our economy, but raising the next generation and ensuring our planet remains habitable for them is seen as an optional add-on. It’s hard to disagree with Nancy’s conclusion that what we need now is a shift in priorities.

Nancy Folbre: I think what we want to move towards is a system where the conventional national accounts are a satellite to the larger accounts. Instead of clinging to the old accounts and then just having this little exception, addition, addendum, footnote, right? I’d like to make GDP, which is the main measure now, I’d like to keep it, let it be its own little satellite.

Caroline, narrating: Ironically, this obsession with counting only the market is starting to come back and hurt the market.

Nancy Folbre: I mean, climate change is really threatening agriculture. It’s threatening real estate, It’s threatening economic development, especially in low income countries. So I think there’s this really interesting parallel between failure to value unpaid work and failure to value the physical environment, to value natural assets or ecological processes that we know we’re really dependent on. But because they’re not bought and sold, they have been kind of relegated to the margins.

Caroline, narrating: The trouble is there’s not much agreement on exactly what we should replace GDP with.

Nancy Folbre: And there’s just a tremendous amount of inertial resistance to changing national income accounts that is significant above and beyond any kind of ideological resistance. You know, you have these accounts, you’ve developed them, you’ve been using them for 75 years. It took a long time to come to international agreements about what you were going to measure and what you were not going to measure. And it provides this nice tidy picture of change over time. And then these people come along like me and say, “Wait a minute, they’re wrong. You got to change them.” Well, that in itself is a very contentious and cumbersome process, but I do feel like it’s underway.

Caroline, narrating: Nancy tells me that it was really the shock of World War II that made an international agreement on GDP possible.

Nancy Folbre: I think, as is often the case, a big external shock to any system is often key to really changing it to some kind of innovation.

Caroline, narrating: A big shock, like a global pandemic, for example?

I think back to Iceland. What Guðrún and Lilja and the rest of them really achieved back on that day in 1975 was to make women’s work visible. With the women and their free childcare gone AWOL and organised childcare closed, fathers were left with no choice but to take their kids to work. At TV and radio stations children crashed their father’s broadcasts live on air. Allegedly the supermarket sold out of sausages as men scrambled to provide dinner for their children. By the end of the day, which came to be known by the men of Iceland as the Long Friday, the women had made their point, their contribution to the economy could no longer be ignored. The strike is credited with being an important impetus behind the election, five years later, of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who beat three men to become the world’s first democratically elected female president. Today Iceland is known as catnip for feminists, regularly heading the World Economic Forum’s ratings as the best place to be a woman.

While the case for valuing women’s unpaid care work is clear cut, over the years I’ve become used to it being ignored by mainstream politics. I’ve become used to sighing as yet another economic report or analysis or budget update completely fails to account for this massive contributor to the global economy. But then Covid happened.

BBC News: Good evening. All schools across Britain will close by the end of the week until further notice as the death toll…

Caroline, narrating: Think back to the spring of 2020. Just like in Iceland in 1975, suddenly people’s kids were no longer neatly tucked away out of sight. They were taking over the airways.

Sky News reporter Deborah Haynes: … my son arriving.

Deborah’s son: Mummy?

Deborah: Hold on one second. Sorry.

Deborah’s son: Can I have two biscuits?

Deborah: Yes, you can have two biscuits.

Caroline, narrating: And suddenly this conversation was happening everywhere. Who was homeschooling the kids, who was cleaning the house, who was looking after elderly relatives, bringing them their shopping and disinfecting it. Where once it felt like no one wanted to talk about this, it now felt like it was almost all we could talk about.

BBC Newsnight: … has found that women are providing around six hours of childcare and homeschooling a day, two hours more than their male partners.

Oxford Martin School, YouTube: So what we found was that women have done by far the greatest share of this additional childcare…

ABC News Australia: Men have taken a big step forward in caring for their children, but women are still bearing most of the load.

Nancy Folbre: When everything else goes awry, we really rely on informal care to keep us together and to keep us going, right?

Caroline, narrating: I found myself wondering, could Covid do for the world what the Women’s Day Off did for Iceland?

There’s at least one place in the world where Covid has prompted an economic overhaul.

Khara Jabola-Carolus:

So thank you so much for having me. And I guess the first thing to say is, Aloha.

Caroline, narrating: This is Khara Jabola-Carolus. She lives in Honolulu.

Khara: I am a bureaucrat to be honest with you, but I come from a community organising background and now I am the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women. And that’s a feminist government agency across all of the islands of Hawaii.

Caroline, narrating: Sun, sea, sand, a feminist government agency. Here in the UK we can only dream of the kinds of things they have in Hawaii.

Caroline: Although I think I’m pronouncing it wrong now cause I think you pronounced it differently?

Khara: Yeah. So Hawaii, it’s… you pronounced both the i’s. Hawai’i. Yeah.

Caroline: So wait, why have I been calling it Hawaii? Is that totally incorrect? Do you know where that comes from?

Khara: It is totally incorrect.

Caroline: Okay. I’m so embarrassed.

Khara: Most Americans do. You’re all good. You’re all good. Most Americans do.

Caroline, narrating: As well as a language tutorial. Khara gives me a quick history lesson.

Khara: Hawaii is considered by many people, and it is factually in law, occupied by the United States. Hawaii had geopolitical strategic importance to colonise the Philippines during the Spanish American war. And so the United States has bases on 25% of the island that I live on. It’s become the headquarters of the US Indo-Pacific Command, which is the largest military theatre of the United States. And so this is a training ground for the military and a staging point into Asia Pacific.

Caroline, narrating: The outcome is that alongside tourism, the military is a big part of the economy in Hawaii.

Khara: It is everywhere and you can’t avoid it. Even at schools, at my child’s school, the bell, there’s not a bell. It’s actually a military bugle, like taps that play. Every day that I’m at home, I hear F-18’s and F-22’s fly overhead. And what makes me think about the economy every time I hear these jets fly over, these fighter jets, I think about the cost of one hour of flight time for those four jets or whatever, is more than my annual budget to take care of over half a million women.

Caroline, narrating: The result is that less money is spent on essential services, and they become hard to access.

Khara: We have a severe shortage in childcare in Hawaii. Even if women do want to participate in the economy, they can’t. We’ve had labour force participation rate pretty much stagnant since the eighties and even declining or worsening rather at points. And so women cannot have the same access to capital as men. And capital is everything. Money is everything in this economy, it’s power and it means survival. If you can’t have childcare, you can’t have money, you can’t have power, and you’re going to have to face off with all sorts of oppressive situations as a result of that. It’s just a chain reaction.

Caroline, narrating: Because of the way the economy is structured. Covid had a devastating impact in Hawaii.

Khara: Our entire economy shut down in a couple of days because we are almost entirely reliant on tourism. And so the impact was more dramatic than in other places in the US.

Caroline, narrating: And Khara herself was hit hard.

Khara: My family, we’re Filipino. And one of the common experiences among Filipinos, almost universal, is family separation. So having to go work abroad and leaving their children with the grandparents and not seeing them for years. So your children aren’t raised by you, in order for your children to survive and you to support your family. And my family left the Philippines to avoid that kind of fate, right? That family separation, and to get a better life as economic refugees, essentially. And then in Covid – even, no, before Covid – childcare, my first child actually, childcare in Hawaii was $2,200 USD a month. We just couldn’t fund it anymore. I mean, $2,200 a month is very, very high. And so I had to make a really difficult decision, a very ironic decision, and send my child to go live in another state, in California with my parents, to get through part of that period. And so just the tragic irony of coming full circle and ending up in the same family separation of wanting a child so bad and then having to give my child to my parents during such a precious period of our lives and his life was just devastating. And the lengths that women are going to and the sacrifices being made en masse are just as tragic and even more so because I am a professional. And so that’s just an anecdote that’s repeated over and over in Hawaii and all over the world about why we need to redo childcare and fully support childcare because it’s breaking families, literally, apart.

Caroline, narrating: But Covid also gave the people of Hawaii a vision of what the future could be.

Khara: It actually got better in Covid because in the United States, the Federal Government allowed the states to lift their means testing. So, we means test everything in the US, and it’s very difficult to qualify for any type of government assistance. And so they lifted that during Covid. So everyone, like all of a sudden, we had universal childcare – free and universal, but the spots just weren’t there. But a lot of us got to experience that just for a moment. And Hawaii, because we had a feminist leader at the helm, I think we were the last state to return to means testing until the Federal Government made us. And so it’s doable. The money clearly was there. We just haven’t been using it for that.

Caroline, narrating: This experience has only strengthened Khara’s resolve to overhaul the traditional economic structure.

Khara: It’s built against a woman’s life. It is incredibly hard to exist in this body and have a fair shot in a competitive labour market. So things like downtime and rest and things that are not profitable have no place, right, in this economy. And so just thinking about the time you need for menstruation, pregnancy, abortion, certain trauma that’s unexpected in your life, domestic violence. Like having a full-time job and dealing with domestic violence is an insane situation. I’ve been in that, right? All these things that women are much, much, much more likely, or only women and gender oppressed people are experiencing are not factored in to this model of work and production.

Caroline, narrating: And when the pandemic struck, Khara knew that this global catastrophe might have a silver lining.

Khara: And we knew that this was also an opportunity to seize people’s anguish and anger at how fragile our economy was, to use it to try to dramatically change how we do our economy here.

Caroline, narrating: Unfortunately, they had some competition. Some of the state’s top economists had put together their own recovery plan.

Khara: And it didn’t even say the word women in it. It didn’t mention childcare or schools in it.

Caroline, narrating: Khara was having none of it.

Khara: We assembled urgently and we put together this plan in co-governance with community members. So it wasn’t written by the state. It was written mostly by native and indigenous people and experts in their various fields.

Caroline, narrating: So she and her colleagues at the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women put together their feminist economic recovery plan.

Khara: A feminist economic recovery plan in very simple language, focuses on needs over profit. And we don’t get consumed by measures of fake growth and success like the GDP, but rather focus on how women are doing on the ground. And women struggle to survive in this economy. And we wanted to make that, or expose the economy as something that’s human-made, mostly white and male-made that will always discriminate against people who are primarily responsible for childcare and birthing. And so we wanted to make that known, that it was a human-made structure and we can redesign it.

Caroline: So what are some of the key policies that you came up with?

Khara: Some of the big ones, paid maternity and family leave, or subsidised or free preschool. Those things are unthinkable for Americans. It’s like everything is intensely privatised in the United States and we pay for every single thing that we need out of pocket and don’t expect government help or to help each other. That’s just like the American mentality of just raw capitalism everywhere and consumer culture. And so we just are expected to be consumers for our needs. And so some of the basic things were just catching up and providing some of the basics that people need and children need to survive.

Caroline, narrating: The resulting feminist economic recovery plan was published in April, 2020.

Khara: The overall aim might sound sentimental, but the goal is really women being able to have collective joy. So it’s not women being able to participate equally, but to be happy. Not just to survive. That’s the ultimate goal, it’s not to have inclusion in the current economy, but it is really to change all of the incentives for how economics works and upset the profit motive, really, and dislodge it.

Caroline, narrating: And it wasn’t long before local governments were voting on and passing this plan.

Caroline: And how did that feel?

Khara: Yeah, it felt surreal. Again, it felt really surreal, but it made me really feel optimistic because we were right. People want feminism. It’s not like this myth. I think we create this myth when we say everyone just thinks it’s bra burning and it’s still icky and a bad word. And we decided to test that and it actually proved to be false. Yeah, people will understand it if you talk about feminism. Not only that, but they’ll resonate with it.

Caroline, narrating: A couple of years later, they’re starting to see some of the effects.

Khara: And so we’ve had a number of successful measures in terms of trying to address the childcare crisis, particularly around the workforce. There wasn’t even data collection on the state of childcare here. There wasn’t centralised data collection that was publicly available to inform policy. And so we were able to pass a law around that recently.

Caroline, narrating: They were also able to outlaw discrimination against people using housing vouchers.

Khara: Landlords here were able to discriminate against people who used them, and 80% were single moms. So it was a form of gender-based discrimination that was hiding itself as voucher discrimination. When it’s really because they just didn’t want all those kids and single moms with kids in their units.

Caroline, narrating: And they’ve even managed to buck the US’s anti-abortion trend.

Khara: A lot of islands, before Covid, relied on doctors flying over to provide healthcare. And so what we did was we expanded who could provide abortions in Hawaii so that nurses, there are nurses on every island, could provide abortion care.

Caroline, narrating: Hawaii’s feminist economic recovery plan stands out to me as a beacon of hope in amongst an otherwise gloomy picture. Here in the UK, our economic response to Covid has been to go for drastic tax cuts that benefit rich men at the expense of poor women, at a time when the country desperately needs to invest in social infrastructure. Over in the US the ambitious Build Back Better plan, which promised to boost care infrastructure was blocked by conservative senators.

Nancy Folbre: But I think it will rise again. It laid out a very powerful agenda and a very good rationale for more public investment and couched that in very pro-family terms like this is how we make it easier for families to care for each other. This is how we make it easier for communities to provide the care that they need for people. It’s not a substitute, it’s a complement. I think that’s going to be an enduring insight and an enduring agenda.

Caroline: Do you think the sort of opportunity for change from Covid is still a possibility? Or do you think the window’s passed now?

Nancy Folbre: Oh no, I think windows are constantly opening and closing. That’s what makes the world a confusing place. Don’t you agree?

Caroline: Yeah, no, you’re probably right.

Caroline, narrating: Back in Iceland, Guðrún and Lilja haven’t stopped plotting.

Caroline: So, what do you think still needs to change for women in Iceland?

Lilja: I think, well, it is a very easy task. We should just change the attitude so that what is valued is taking care of children and the elderly, and they should have the highest pay while financial things are just secondary, I think. And that would change the whole situation.

Guðrún: You have forgotten that we live in a capitalistic society.

Lilja: Yeah, yeah. I said it’s just an easy task…

Caroline, narrating: Guðrún is excited that she can already see more women in engineering, a sector she used to feel very alone in. But now there are loads of women engineers attending events together.

Guðrún: Last time there were more than 100 beautiful looking young women, fantastic women giving speeches and telling us what they were doing. I think that is, after 25th of October, this was the second best day in my life.

Caroline, narrating: They both agree that what’s needed is to get more men into stereotypically female roles.

Lilja: What has happened is that women have went into the male dominated positions before, but the men have not come into the other.

Caroline: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s quite similar in a lot of countries. And I mean, it’s very obvious why, isn’t it? Because for women it’s to go up. For men, it’s to go down. So why would they want to come to where we are? How do you think that we can solve that?

Lilja: Well-

Caroline: Well, it’s your idea, it’s making it pay better. And just your feelings on the day of the strike. How did you feel?

Guðrún: Triumph. Yes, We made it! 

Caroline, narrating: Guðrún And Lilja started working on this in their thirties, not far off the age Khara is now, and they’ve kept it up for almost 50 years since then. And you could see it as depressing that there’s still so much work to do, even in Iceland. But then again, that’s the history of women’s rights. Many of the suffragists fought their entire lives without living to see the moment women got the vote. Change takes time. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. And Lilja and Guðrún have seen plenty of change.

[Guðrún and Lilja speak to each other in Icelandic]

Caroline, narrating: After the interview, we headed to the kitchen for tea and snacks.

Guðrún: This is cream cheese with seaweed.

Caroline: Wow. Is that…

Caroline, narrating: Lilja shows me all the books and pamphlets about the protest that she’s kept.

Lilja: There are some pictures from this time, you know. Me and my husband and a friend who used to work with Guðrún and her husband.

Caroline: So these were supportive men?

Lilja: Mm-hmm.

Caroline, narrating: Both women are full of suggestions about how we can make this podcast better.

Guðrún: I guess that you can in your telephone, find Áfram stelpur on the YouTube.

Hannah: Oh, here we go.

Caroline: Oh, it’s on Spotify.

[Áfram stelpur (í augsýn er nú frelsi) plays]

Caroline, narrating: They tell us to play the song that was written for the strike and which was broadcast on the radio to encourage women to participate.

[Guðrún and Lilja sing along to Áfram stelpur]

Caroline, narrating: This song has been played at the funerals of some of their friends from the Red Stockings.

Guðrún: But I think you could use this and we could get a translation from the text.

Caroline: That would be great.

Guðrún: The refrain is, “But do I dare? Can I. Will I? Yes, I can. I will.”

Caroline, narrating: Thanks for listening to this episode of Visible Women from Tortoise. This episode was written and produced by me, Caroline Criado Perez, alongside Hannah Varrall and Patricia Clarke. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. It features original music by Tom Kinsella and sound design from Sam at String Cast Media.