International conference in Reykjavík 22­–23 October, 2015. 100 years celebration of women’s suffrage

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International conference in Reykjavík 22­–23 October, 2015. 100 years celebration of women’s suffrage

2015 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage in Iceland, as well as in Denmark. A part of the celebration in Iceland is an international conference to be held in Reykjavík 22­–23 October. The aim of the conference is to reflect on the 100 years of women’s suffrage in the Nordic countries, but also to stimulate broader critical and transnational thinking on the current status of women’s civil rights and political participation. An important part of the conference agenda will be to identify present threats to women’s civil, political and social rights and measures to combat them.
The conference is open to the public and free to attend. Presentations and debates will mainly be in English. Requests for sign language interpretation need to be submitted through registration by 14 October 2015.


The purpose of the conference is to reflect on the 100 years of women’s political rights in the Nordic countries, but also to analyse gender equality in international context. The first day of the conference, October 22, will focus on the history of women’s suffrage in the Nordic countries and the present-day status of women’s political participation in the area. The second day, October 23, will centre on the current threats to women’s civil rights: women’s share in the public space; women’s control over their own bodies; and the gendered side of the economy.

Day 1: Democracy in the Nordic countries

100 years of political participation

In 1906 Finland became the first European country to grant women both the right to vote and the right to stand as a candidate in elections. The other Nordic countries followed in Finland’s footsteps: Norway in 1913, Iceland, Denmark and the Faroe Islands in 1915, and Sweden in 1921. On the other hand, women in Greenland did not get the right to vote until 1948. Parallel, lower class men (the poor, debtors etc.) also gained the right to vote and stand for election.

This part of the conference will be devoted to the history of equal suffrage in the Nordic countries. How have these civil rights changed in the past 100 years? Were the changes a product of continuous development throughout the 20th century or a breakthrough only in the past decades? Why are the Nordic countries now at the forefront in terms of gender equality? The seminar will also ask how women have benefitted from equal political rights and which women have been able to enforce these rights. Have the civil rights benefitted all women or only the few? What is the relationship between gender on the one hand and class and other discriminatory variables on the other hand? Why have women never made up to half of parliamentarians in the Nordic countries?

Democracy challenged: Gender, class, race and religion

At the Centenary of women’s suffrage in the Nordic countries, it remains obvious that equal political rights do not automatically lead to equal political representation. The democracy is face by new challenges: voter turnout is increasingly in decline and so is public trust in political parties and institutions. Meanwhile, like widely in Europe, populist and xenophobic parties gain support.

This seminar will focus on the current democratic challenges in the Nordic countries. It will discuss multiculturalism within a Nordic context and how new demographics have influenced the democracy. How are different groups represented within decision-making bodies, e.g. in relation to class, race, ethnicity and religion? How does increased right wing extremism in Europe affect women’s rights and political participation? What is the impact of history and popular interpretation of history?

Celebratory seminar in honour of Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

The 1980’s marked a significant change in women’s political representation in the Nordic countries. Iceland’s first female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was also the first female democratically elected head of state in the world. A year after her election, or in 1981, Gro Harlem Brundtland, took office as Norway’s first female prime minister. What was their experience of marking this turning point in Nordic history? Was the debate on women’s political participation similar in Iceland and Norway? Did President Finnbogadóttir and PM Brundtland communicate on a personal level at the time?

This celebratory seminar, in the honour of Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, will offer a platform for Finnbogadóttir and Brundtland to share personal and political memories from their time in office in Iceland and Norway in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Laura Ann Liswood, General Secretary of the Cofuncil of Women World Leaders and co-founder of the organisation with Finnbogadóttir, will participate in the debate. Former president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, has also been invited to participate.

Day 2: Current Threats to Women’s Civil Rights

The second day of the conference will deal with women’s current civil rights in Iceland, the Nordic countries and beyond. It will analyse the main threats to women’s civil rights, by focusing on the following themes:

The Public Space

Despite the remarkable success in promoting and producing gender equality in Iceland and the other Nordic countries, women still remain underrepresented in public debate. This is true for both politics and media representation. According to the Global Media Monitoring Project (2010), women were subjects in only 23% of media coverage in Iceland, based on the analysis of the media during one day. Furthermore, online news sources present more gender bias than the traditional news media.

This seminar will analyse women’s position in the current public debate. What are the realities that women face when they get involved in politics or public debate? What about women who are also members of minority groups? What influence has the new media had on women’s representation in media? How does the Internet as a medium serve women? How has the possibility of anonymity on the Internet affected women? How do we ensure that women and men equally occupy the “public space”? What is the impact of anti-system political parties on gender equality? How has the European far right influenced women’s rights?

The Body

Women’s right to control their bodies has been the central theme of the women’s movement for decades. No country in the world has managed to eradicate gender-based violence. This theme will deal with the relevance of body politics to the current status of women’s civil rights. It opens up for discussion on the status of reproductive rights of women in Iceland, the Nordic countries and elsewhere, and the issue of violence against women. To what extent do women in the most “egalitarian” countries of the world control their own bodies? What are the main threats to the female body, in the Nordic countries and elsewhere? How “free” are women sexually? What does sex between equals look like?

The Economy

A 2014 OECD report shows rising inequality in the wake of the global economic and political crisis. The income of the poorest of the population has declined, or increased less, than that of the richest. In this part of the conference the discussion will focus on how the global economic and political crisis has influenced women, taking into account other variables such as race, ethnicity, ability and class. What is the gendered impact of austerity measures? What is the status of women in the current political economy? Who performs unpaid or low paid work?

Towards full Human Rights of Women

While women’s liberation and full gender equality might still be a utopian dream, women have seen revolutionary changes in the past decades. The last part of the conference will analyse the tools that have improved – or could improve – women’s civil rights. Which measures have been successful in moving women’s civil and human rights forward (law, activism, policies, academic research etc.)? How is it possible to bridge the gap between law and reality? What is the influence of international treaties? And most importantly, what are the next steps in moving women’s civil and human rights forward and which measures can be used?



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