New women’s shelter in Akureyri and inaccessibility

A women’s shelter (Kvennaathvarfið) has been open in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, for 38 years. The shelter provides housing, counselling and other services for women, and their children, that are sufferers of violence. Despite the intention of supporting all women, the shelter has never been accessible to disabled women and children.

On the 28th of August a new Women’s Shelter opened its doors in Akureyri. While that is a reason to celebrate, it also reminds us how we have to do better. We have to work harder in preventing and eliminating gender based violence!

The Icelandic Women’s Shelter logo

How are the women’s shelters (still) not accessible?

We should have opened an accessible shelter 38 years ago. We should have made the shelter accessible at some point during these 38 years. But even more appalling is the fact that we are opening a new shelter today, that is also inaccessible.

There are plans to build a shelter in Reykjavík that has apartments that will be accessible to all. There are plans for that building to be ready in 2021 (link to page about accessibility). Forty years of disregard and not showing support is still way too long. We can’t keep ignoring disabled women in our fight for equality.

Disabled women react

Jana Birta, a disabled artist (Facebook, Instagram), and Tabú, a feminist disability movement (Facebook, Web Page), have both pointed out the lack of support for disabled women in Iceland that are, and have been, sufferers of violence. Jana Birta illustrated a powerful image to show how inaccessible the women’s shelters in Iceland are.

Artist Jana Birta’s depiction of disabled women’s inaccessibility to the Icelandic Women’s Shelter.

Statement from Tabú:

Translated from Icelandic:

Research has shown that disabled women are likelier to be subjected to violence than non-disabled women. This fact is one of the reasons that Tabú exists. It is also why we have focused on discussions and coverage of issues related to violence from the beginning. In spite of this we recently got news that the recently opened Women’s Shelter in Akureyri is located in an inaccessible building. This is also true of the Women’s Shelter in Reykjavík. We are exhausted from fighting for improved accessibility. A new resource for survivors of violence should not be opened unless accessibility is guaranteed!

Tabú, Facebook post

20th of April 2020

This seems to have been a week of optimism. People in Iceland seem mostly optimistic about the outcome of how we’ve handled Covid-19, and some are even a bit too eager to get to the end of this seemingly never ending tunnel. But hopefully we’ll continue on our way upwards, slowly and steadily.

Vigdís

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, 2019. Screenshot from Útvarp 101.

Perhaps the most notable news this week was the 90th birthday of Iceland’s former president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was Iceland’s first, and currently only, female president, and she was the first democratically elected head of state in the world when she got into office in 1980. I think I can say without a doubt that she is our most beloved president, and on her birthday this week, on the 15th of April, people clearly showcased that appreciation by sharing thoughts, stories and photographs on social media under the hashtag #takkvigdis (#thankyouvigdís). I wrote a short appreciation post about her on the Reykjavík Feminist Walking Tour instagram, if you’re interested in knowing more about Vigdís.

Flóra útgáfa

On the 16th of April the publishing co-operative Flóra útgáfa published the 6th edition of their online magazine entitled Líkamar or Bodies. The issue is all about different bodies, loving your body and the skin you’re in, the complications we sometimes run into when practising self love and pretty much just everything that has to do with inhabiting a body. The publication is mostly in Icelandic, but I recommend this poem in English by model, artist and activist, Ísold Halldórudóttir: Sometimes I wish I was skinny.

Að sjá hið ósýnilega

Trailer from the documentary Seeing the Invisible.

This week I finally got to see an Icelandic documentary called Að sjá hið ósýnilega or Seeing the invisible. The documentary is about Icelandic women on the autism spectrum and is a must see for everyone. I would say especially for people not on the spectrum so we know how we’ve been failing autistic people as a society and how we can do better.

The movie is going to be accessible in Iceland through ruv.is until the 13th of July (but only in Icelandic), and I highly recommend it to anyone that is in Iceland and understands Icelandic.

My only criticism on it would be that I think it isn’t tough enough on us that aren’t on the spectrum and are non-disabled. Autistic people shouldn’t have to adjust to society any more than they want to, in order to not become victims to violence, abuse or bullying. People should just never be violent, abusive or bullies.

The bad

Unfortunately we don’t seem to be able to have a week of just good, and this week was no different.

This week a young man verbally attacked an Asian woman video taping the interaction while shouting: “you are the Coronavirus” while the woman tried to object to his incessant and nonsensical shouting. The video was uploaded on the social media platform TikTok but was deleted later on as members reported it. The young man seemed to not take the lesson and has continued bragging about the instance on other social media platforms (1).

As a mostly caucasian country Iceland is really slow when it comes to racial matters but fortunately all media and such have only called Covid-19, either that or Coronavirus so racism surrounding Covid-19 has not been very apparent in Iceland until it came to that instance. 

The good

Other good things that happened this week are that the first Icelandic woman graduated as a heart and lung surgeon. Congratulations Ragnheiður Martha Jóhannesdóttir! It’s been more than 100 years since the first woman graduated from medical studies in Iceland and we’re still having firsts which is amazing but maybe also a little bit sad since of course it would be better if we were moving a whole lot faster! The first female doctor in Iceland graduated in 1917 and her name was Kristín Ólafsdóttir (1,2).

An imagined view of Tryggvagata after the changes, Gerður Helgadóttir’s mosaic at the centre. Photo from reykjavik.is.

This week on reykjavik.is, the official website for the city of Reykjavík, it was announced how Tryggvagata, a downtown street, will look after impending changes. Usually that wouldn’t be a feminist issue, some construction work downtown, but this time it is. The reason being that after the change the whole street will be focused on a large mosaic art piece made by Icelandic artist Gerður Helgadóttir. The mosaic has been on that wall for almost forty years but has always been partially blocked by cars that park in front of it. But now that the parking has been moved underground and away from the street Gerður’s work will be in full view. Gerður was an amazing artist, that sadly, along with her fellow Icelandic female artists is not remembered enough. Just like I try to highlight in my tour at one of the stops that is solely about women in the arts.

30.03 – 05.04 2020

I have been intending on starting this blog for months now, but finally have the time (and lack of procrastination) to start it now, when the whole world seems to be at a standstill.

Even though most of our lives seem less hectic these days, our minds are certainly not, and our news are certainly not.

Covid 19 and domestic violence

Like everywhere else in the world these days, here in Iceland we are very worried about women and children in relation to domestic violence and abuse. The Icelandic police share that concern and they have released a video across many platforms voicing that concern and also urging the public to report any incidents that might relate to domestic violence. This is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to responding to domestic violence, but there are still concerns that this is too little, too late, and that domestic violence should always be on the forefront and be worked from the angle of prevention, that is to prevent people from committing any form of abuse.

There have already been two murders in Iceland during the gathering ban (1, 2), that has been going on since the 13th of March. In both cases the victims are women, and in both cases the perpetrators are men. It has not been confirmed that these are the results of domestic violence, but looking at history, that is highly likely. To prevent horrible tragedies like these happening again, Iceland as a society really has to step up when it comes to preventing domestic violence all together.

Covid 19 and the healthcare industry

Last week the number of people in Iceland infected with Covid 19 got to over 1000 people, and now we are over 1500. Like almost anywhere else in the world, there has been tremendous pressure on our health care workers recently, but recently our attention here in Iceland has been focused on nurses. 

Nurses here in Iceland are mostly female, and they are understaffed, and underpaid. Since they are understaffed, they have been paid a sort of bonus for some time for taking on extra shifts, but that bonus was only paid until February 2020, since the deal around it didn’t reach further than that. Nurses, and of course the entire community here in Iceland, are very angry that this deal wasn’t renewed and also that they have been able to reach a deal with the government in regards to their salaries for over a year now. Their value is especially apparent these days, and people are generally very supportive of their battle. (1, 2, 3)

Children

There was one case of Covid 19 detected in a spouse that was staying with their partner and child for five days at the postnatal unit in Reykjavík. After that rules regarding those areas of the hospitals have been tightened, but as of right now, partners are still allowed to attend the births of their children. They are not allowed to attend anything else, like check-ups or scans, and are even urged to wait at home or on the parking lot. This of course takes a lot of support away from expectant parents, who are mostly very anxious about the situation. (1)

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Eric Ward

Another big thing that happened recently in regards to children and parents rights was that a bill, made by our minister of justice, has been passed through our government. If the bill becomes a law children in Iceland can register their home with both their parents. This is important since this will give both parents equal access to everything that comes with having a child and doesn’t require one parent to pay child support if the child is living equally with both parents. This is of course a law that needs to happen, but many women are anxious about it and feel like this is not the time for the passing of this law, since other issues need to be addressed first like domestic violence and such, where this new law could be used to oppress and abuse through children. (1)

Disability

Last weekend we had a case where a disabled person that has support workers suspected she had Covid 19. When looking for directions on how to proceed to ensure that she, her family, her support workers and everyone else was as safe as could be she hit many walls, a lot of institutions that support and help non-disabled members of our society through this time had no idea about how to support and help disabled people that have support workers in their home. Fortunately, after two days of worrying, results came and she didn’t have Covid-19, but her case showed yet again how we fail disabled people again and again. (1)


The news from the last seven days is very disheartening, and shows that we have a lot to do when it comes to equal rights in all levels of our society in Iceland. Hopefully we will continue to strive to do better, and hopefully people in Iceland will keep pressuring our government, our lawmakers and everyone else that holds a position of power to do better.

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