Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir,(September 27, 1856 – March 16, 1940)an early Icelandic advocate for women's liberation and women's suffrage(photo: Óðinn, May 1908, reported by wikipedia.org)Today, 19th of June 2015, Iceland celebrates the 100th anniversary of women’ rights to vote, accorded to women over the age of 40 in 1915 (at this time men were allowed to vote by the age of 25). “It’s important that we honor the work that women put in to gain the right to vote a 100 years ago,” said Auður Styrkársdóttir, Director of Iceland’s Women’s History Archives in an interview with the Reykjavik Grapevine,  “And it’s important to remember that the rights that we take for granted now, were not a given once upon a time. The right of women to vote is still not a given today. There are still countries that don’t grant women the right to vote and history shows us that women always need to be vigilant. It’s easy to take away people’s rights.” Indeed, while Iceland accorded women with the right to vote about in the same time of most of the Arctic Countries countries, first was Finland in 1906, followed by Norway, 1913, Denkmark,1915, Canada and Russian Federation, 1917, Sweden, 1919, USA, 1920, other countries, as for instance Switzerland, accorded these rights as late as 1971 (but it was only in 1990 when the Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden was forced by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland to accept women's suffrage), while there are still countries not allowing it, as for instance Brunei.

As in most cases, Icelandic women’s rights to vote has been a gradual process (that is also the reason why dates celebrating women’ suffrage may differ for the same country).

In Iceland, which at time was under the Danish Kingdom, first were the tax-payers and land owners men to receive the right to vote in 1845, followed by tax-payers unmarried or widow women not belonging to the working class in 1882.

All women (therefore also the married ones) in Iceland started voting for local elections: Reykajvik and Hafnafjörður started as soon as 1908, followed by the whole country in 1910. Eventually, in 1913 the Parliament agreed on a bill, which became law in 1915 when the Danish king ratified it, where the right to vote was accorded women over the age of 40. The peculiar decision –nowhere else in the world this age limit has been set ---was due to concern of the Parliamentarians to lose practically all power over national affairs:

 “The majority of the committee has agreed to adhere to the franchise articles of the bill of 1911, but with the alteration that the new voters are not all admitted at once, but gradually, so that after 15 years the franchise to the lower house will be as described in the bill. The majority of the committee regards it as hazardous to increase the numbers so greatly at a stroke, that the present electorate will lose practically all power over national affairs.” (Alþingistíðindi 1913, A-hluti: 933).

In 1920 the age limit for women was lifted following an agreement between Denmark and Iceland.

Today, this day is celebrate with several initiatives across the whole country. To name but one, most of the Icelandic companies will give women half day off (from 13:00h).  

Read more on , Icelandic Roots, and Kvennasogusafn.

 

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