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

It’s been way too long – 10th of August 2020

Like everyone else I started the COVID-19 period full of fire and then it kind of died down, and with my fire dying down I stopped writing posts on this page. 

But since last time everything here in Iceland went pretty much back to normal, just minus the tourists. Since then we have gone through a period where there were no active COVID cases here in Iceland, then to partly opening up the country again. Today we have over hundred active cases and over nine-hundred people in lockdown.

The country is still partially open but we are being more careful now than we have been over the past few weeks, we are maintaining the 2m distance again, and where it is not possible to keep that distance we are using masks. We have also reduced the gathering ban back down to 100 people, from 500 people like it was for most of June and July.

Black Lives Matter in Iceland

Since the last post a lot has happened in the world, and in Iceland, it kind of feels like it has been forever, but it has only been just over two months.

Most notable of what has happened, alongside the battle with COVID-19, is the Black Lives Matter movements uprising against police brutality and overall racism. Many people think of Iceland as a peaceful Paradise, which I’m sure it is in the eyes of many people, and when compared to other places. But being better than other places isn’t good enough, we have to always strive to be as good as possible, not just Iceland, but everyone.

There was only one Black Lives Matter protest in Iceland on the 3rd of June and following that a Black Lives Matter Iceland chapter was formed. The protest was peaceful and powerful and showed that more action is needed from Icelandic lawmakers and citizens to stand with people of colour, listen to their concerns and fight with them and for them when they are exhausted from their every day fights. Racism has sadly been ingrained in Icelandic history and is sadly still a part of our lives and even our culture still today.

Dori Levett Baldvinsson , Derek T. Allan og Sante Feaster – Icelandic-Americans that alongside others took part in organising the Black Lives Matter protest in Iceland.
Screenshot from

The Black Lives Matter protest here in Iceland was in large part to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter groups all over the world and to protest police violence in the US and the death of George Floyd. But it was also about systematic racism and daily oppressions black people in Iceland face. The protest also highlighted the stance the Suðurnes chapter of police in Iceland took when they put an Instagram photo up with the hashtag blue lives matter, they later took down the hashtag siting lack of knowledge of the origin of the hashtag. A side discourse also took place about how both emergency call operators and the police lack empathy towards other minority groups, in particular the homeless and people with drug- or alcohol abuse problems.

Racism in Iceland – past and present

Clipping from an Icelandic newspaper in 1977. Headline reads “N****r in Þistilfjord. The story itself is not deep-rooted racism, and is about Ato Stephen (his name is not mentioned in the text), working as a farmhand to learn differnt ways of working his own farm in Ghana. It gives an example about how black people were othered in Iceland for a long time. Morgunblaðið went to Þistilfjörður to interview Ato Stephen a few days after this headline was published.

We will always carry it with us that during and after WWII we protested entry for Jewish refugees on the basis that we wanted to preserve the pure Icelandic heritage, no Jewish refugees got to come to Iceland officially. A little bit later we made it a part of our contract with NATO that no black soldiers could stay at their Icelandic base in Keflavík (page 31). We have to make sure stories like these don’t repeat themselves again and in at the same time also fight racism on a smaller, everyday scale.

Opinion piece from an Icelandic newspaper in December 1938

The image reads: Even though it is natural that Icelandic citizens feel compassion with the Jews in Germany during their looming tragedy, we still have to consider that everyone has to fend for themselves and the Icelandic nation has to first take car of their own before they take on the responsibility of foreign refugees. Even more so the nation has the holy duty, to safeguard the Icelandic race, the Nordic and Celtic blood, so that no strong, foreign race, will erase the nordic features of our race in just few generations. It must become the peremptory demand of every Icelander, that the government will make sure that the immigration of foreigners, that now seek assylum all over Europe, will be controlled. The nation is of one mind when it comes to this decision.

Shortly after the Black Lives Matter protest we got a reminder about how hard we have to keep working against racism here in Iceland. An Icelandic comedian, that was in the headlines in 2018 for groping an underaged girl under her dress without her consent, filmed another Icelandic comedian on his Instagram story where he was making a derogatory impression of what was obviously meant to be an Asian person performing a sexual act on a man. The latter was also in the news in 2012 for an Asian character he “created” and was very derogatory towards people of Asian heritage.

Many people rose up in outrage towards these men which was good, but many other people also rose up to defend them, using the good old excuse of “they were only joking”. It wasn’t until some very strong Asian women came out telling their stories about how these jokes about Asian people, that are based on exaggerated and false stereotypes were in part what made them the victims of bullying when they were growing up, and have made them be subjected to sexual racism, sexual harassment and violence all their lives.

The tours are starting again!

In positive news though, I have started to do tours again! On the 19th of June, Iceland’s day of women’s rights, when it was 105 years since some women in Iceland got the right to vote for parliament, I did my biggest tour yet when over 150 Icelandic women came to celebrate the day with me and the Icelandic Women’s Rights Movement that sponsored the walk.

At Bernhöftstofa on 19th of June

And alongside those tours I will start to blog here weekly again! I have put my tours up on AirBnb, so go check them out (and book a tour if you’re in Reykjavík or coming to Iceland!