IceFemIn organized a Leader’s Talk at the WPL conference in Harpa 9. – 11. November 2020. The topic was Women´s Empowerment is acutely important now. The reason for this statement is the situation in the world, where we see conservative and populist governments starting conflicts, threatening our democracy and taking  away hard-won rights from women. Covid 19 has greatly increased women’s workload, not least for those working in the healthcare sector. Violence against women has grown all over the world during the pandemic and lead to unemployment and poverty. 

The participants were Joanna Markincowska from Poland (she has lived in Iceland for many years), Eglantina Gjermeni from Albania, Sigríður Björg Guðjónsdóttir Chief of police in Iceland and the moderator Kristín Ástgeirsdóttir from IceFemIn. Technical difficulties hindered/prevented Sigríður Dúna Kristmundsdóttir (IceFemIn) and Lena Nielsen from Norway to participate. 

Joanna described the situation in Poland where the government is in a war against women’s rights, not least women’s reproductive rights. In Albania and in most of southern Europe things are going very slowly when it comes to women’s empowerment.  

The participants agreed that what is most important now is to increase women’s participation in politics. We need feminists in parliaments and local governments to protect and fight for women’s rights. They also agreed that it is necessary to strengthen cooperation between women’s movements across borders all over the world. There is a lot of work to be done and women must reorganize in order to protect and win back lost rights and to crush patriarchy.   



Women´s empowerment is acutely important


In the pandemic, we are now going through, we have seen many old and familiar monsters raise their heads. 

We have seen men igniting conflicts, new and old, in the belief they can get away with it as the world community is occupied with battling the virus that threatens all our lives. Conflicts, like the one in Nagorno-Karabakh to take an example, puts in peril women´s lives and the livelihood of their families, for which they are most often responsible. 

We have seen men in power trashing democratic ideas on which our societies are grounded. In Belarus Alexandre Lukashenko, crowns himself president after an obviously rigged election. He not only pays no attention to the protests of his people, the most tenacious of which are women, he jails and tortures them.

We have seen hard won rights taken away from women. A case in point is Poland and its new legislation on abortion, which withdraws almost all women´s right over their bodies and lives. Women´s bodies have always been a matter of control for men as by being in charge of women´s fertility men can control women. That is exactly what has happened in Poland.

Another and recent case in point is the declaration of 33 states for the protection of fetuses, instigated by the United States. This declaration treats women as incubators not as persons. It is no surprise that the signatories are states where women do not enjoy the same rights as men, such as Saudi Arabia, Poland, Hungary and the Democratic Republic of Congo where women live in fear for their lives every day.

From the United States, once thought to be the “Leader of the Free World”, a constant stream of misogynist abuse has emanated from its president Donald Trump. His discourse for the past four years has generally emboldened the atmosphere of toxic masculinity that other male leaders, local or national, seem now to think themselves free to practice.

 And even though president Trump has now been defeated in democratic elections, and even though we are seeing the first woman elected to the office of the Vice President of the United States, we must not forget that over 70 million Americans voted for him. Therefore I am afraid that Trumpism, with its utter disrespect for women and their rights, is here to stay.

In this pandemic we have seen women lose their jobs and their financial independence being redirected into their homes to take care of housework and their children. And, last but not least, we have seen the rising domestic violence against women during the lock-downs caused by the pandemic. In the current misogynist atmosphere men seem to feel more free than ever to abuse their women at the kitchen sink where they are stuck now.

In this situation it is absolutely imperative to enable women to speak out in their own defense. It is sorely needed. Of course there were women who voted for Donald Trump and did so again now. And there were women in the Polish parliament who voted in the new Polish abortion law.  What informs these women is not a question of biological gender but of gendered ideas. 

All women are formed by patriarchal ideas and values as we are all brought up and live in patriarchal societies. It is therefore not surprising that some women vote as they do. In this situation, enhanced by the pandemic, it is absolutely essential to empower women to think creatively about their own situation, away from the ideas they were brought up on and meet every day going about their lives. 

We have to realize that we do not need to go by these accepted patriarchal ideas and that the old well known monsters can be slain. Women are DOERS, they can rethink their situation from their own premises and act accordingly. By doing so they can change their society and the way people think about women and men.

We did that in Iceland in the 1980s and put forward Women´s lists in municipal and national elections. We obtained political mandates and got women elected into parliament and municipal governments – on their own premises. We know this is possible. We also know that the success of the women´s lists in Iceland was instrumental in changing the way Icelandic society and politics viewed women and their rights – sending Iceland to the top of the list of The World Economic Forum for gender equality.  We are not there yet but we knowpatriarchal and misogynist ideas are not a law of nature. We can change them. 

ICEFEMIN, which is hosting this session, was established by women who have experience of moving women´s ideas into the center of politics and power. That we did with the method of women´s lists in elections. This method is open to women in all democratic societies and we in ICEFEMIN would be happy to assist women everywhere in establishing such lists or organize events. We know what needs to be done, how to go about it and how important it is that women´s ideas, based on their own experiences, are applied to all issues in public decision making.  

Women´s empowerment is essential at all times but perhaps never more acute than right now.