Story of Iceland’s HERRING GIRLS

In 2021, Iceland nabbed the top spot on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for the 12th year in a row. A measure of gender parity in politics, the economy, education, health and other key areas, the report praised Iceland’s “strong performance” across the board, which enabled the island nation to close 89.2 percent of its gender gap—an increase over 2020. The United States, meanwhile, ranked 30th on the list…

Iceland’s high level of gender equality traces its roots to a remarkable period of rapid socioeconomic change. At the turn of the 20th century, herring fishing exploded in the North Atlantic, giving rise to boomtowns in northern Iceland—the equivalent of Gold Rush towns in North America. Seasonal influxes of fishermen fed roaring local economies and attracted herring girls, or women who came from across Iceland to take jobs gutting, cleaning and salting barrels of freshly caught fish. Known as síldarstúlkur in Icelandic, they found autonomy and opportunity in places like Siglufjörður, the island’s largest herring hub.

Herring girls helped secure the gender equality and economic agency that Iceland is known for today, fighting for equal pay and labor rights. In addition to financial independence, the boom years brought women a taste of life outside of their hometowns and farmsteads. “[The period is] often referred to as the ‘herring adventure,’” says Anita Elefsen, director of Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum, “because it was. It’s just so very different from anything else in Iceland’s history.”

The article is a great read. An important piece of Iceland’s history and an example to Europe and the world.

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