03/01/2018 10:56 GMT | Updated 03/01/2018 15:54 GMT

Iceland Becomes First Country To Make It Illegal To Pay Men More Than Women

Closing the pay gap.

Iceland has passed radical new legislation to become the first country in the world where companies must legally prove they are not discriminating on the basis of gender. 

The new law - effective from 1 January 2018 - requires all private and public employers with more than 25 staff to obtain government certification of their equal pay policies – or face fines and auditing.

Brynhildur Heiðar- og Ómarsdóttir, the managing director of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association told HuffPost UK: “We are absolutely delighted with this new legislation.”  

A woman cycles past the Althingi Parliament building in Reykjavik, Iceland 

Iceland already uses the Equal Pay Standard, a set of rules and regulations which companies use to measure the gender pay gap within their establishments. The new law means they are now mandated to undergo certification every three years based on this standard.

Heiðar- og Ómarsdóttir warned: “But of course, the Equal Pay Standard is not a cure-all. That is, it only tackles one part of the problem of gender pay discrimination. To completely eradicate the gender pay gap, we need to tackle larger social issues such as making sure that professions which are mostly female are paid equally to professions that are mostly male, and we need to ensure that men and women are equally responsible for families since today women are more likely to work part-time or take time off work to take care of families.” 

Iceland, which has a population of about 335,000 and where 38 per cent of parliamentarians are female - above the global average - including Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, wants to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022.

The North Atlantic island nation was ranked first in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. But Icelandic women still earn, on average, 14% to 18% less than men. The United Kingdom ranked 18th out of 145 countries. 

The WEF reported last year reported an economic gap of 58 percent between the sexes and forecast women would have to wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and have equal representation in the workplace.


“Iceland is ranked as world’s most gender equal country by (the World Economic Forum) ... Clearly Iceland is very serious about gender equality,” former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote on Twitter.

“The new law by Iceland can help change attitudes to women in business as well as in politics, and inspire other countries to do the same,” said Virginie Le Masson, a research fellow at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

“Ample evidence shows that women work as much as men and are still paid less,” she added.

US independent Bernie Sanders, a leading liberal voice in the Senate, called on the United States to follow Iceland’s example.

“We must follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Iceland and demand equal pay for equal work now, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

News of the new law was first announced on International Women’s Day in March 2017.

That month, Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said “the time is right to do something radical about this issue”.

“Equal rights are human rights,’’ he said. “We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that.’’

In October thousands of Icelandic women left work at 2.38pm and demonstrated outside parliament to protest the gender pay gap. Women’s rights groups calculate that after that time each day, women are working for free.