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Iceland First to Mandate Equal Pay

Iceland is now the first country to begin crafting a law that will require companies to prove that they aren’t discriminatorily paying women less than men – and they’ll have to prove it every three years. Bjarni Benediktsson, Iceland’s Prime Minister, celebrated International Women’s Day by visiting New York to talk about gender equality and his country’s plan to put the law into action by 2022.

The law will require any company with over 25 employees to provide proof that it isn’t discriminating when it comes to pay. While Iceland seems to be the farthest ahead in the world’s slow race to gender equality, Benediktsson still acknowledged that there was much more to be done.

In Iceland, women still earn 14 to 18 percent less than men. This is still a large improvement when compared to women over 35 in the United States, who earn 26 to 18 percent less than men.

The Center for American Progress explains how percentages like these are calculated, which is important information to have on hand when talking about the wage gap with someone who might demand that you prove it exists. People like this might be confused, for example, by the idea that women earn 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men, saying things like: “Well women don’t work the same jobs as men,” or, “It isn’t all [because of] discrimination.”

These are true statements. The “77 cents” figure is just a simple way of explaining a web of interactions between women and the societies they live in. Women take home less than men for many reasons other than workplace discrimination. Examining these reasons and remedying them where possible (i.e. providing a federally funded childcare program to help women get back to work) can give women more choices.

Iceland’s new law will apply to any company with over 25 employees, providing the government with large amounts of data to quantify discrimination and the proof it requires to take legislative action. But this time, it won’t be the women who are required to act. If the law is successful, and there are punishments for discrimination that cost more than paying women a fair wage, it’s very likely Iceland will see another boost to women’s average pay.

The law’s details have yet to be publically released, likely because it’s still in its earliest stages. But Iceland’s new law is a big step in the right direction, especially if it inspires similar actions in other countries.

Featured Image by Jörg Schubert on  Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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