ICELAND— I have spent most of this past week in Iceland where the population is about 330,000 people.
It is easy to enact laws that work when you have a population of less than a million. However, Iceland has taken the lead on many laws dealing with equal rights. There are two laws on Iceland’s books that the United States should enact.
The first law is known worldwide as the “Equal Pay Law.” The law says any company with more than 25 employees must be able to show that it pays men and women the same rate for the same jobs. This is not something that should be so revolutionary and extraordinary. It is passed, and Iceland is at the forefront of the equal-pay movement.
In the United States, we can’t even get an equal-rights amendment to the Constitution passed. It is hard to believe that the first rendition of the amendment was written in 1921, close to 100 years ago. Then, in 1971, it was reintroduced, and it passed both the Senate and House. It was not ratified by the date/time given to it by Congress. Like most amendments to the Constitution, this one is easy to read and not complicated. The proposed equal-rights amendment stated:
“No political, civil, or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex or on account of marriage, unless applying equally to both sexes, shall exist within the United States or any territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof.
“Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”
The Reikjavik Grapevine newspaper cited a 2015 statistic from “Statistics Iceland” that said women earned 14 to 20 percent less than men. According to reporting by the paper, the government hopes to close the pay gap between men and women by 2022.
What is in this law is interesting in that we would never see a law like this passed in the United States. It requires companies with more than 25 employees to obtain a certificate from the Center for Gender Equality, and the certification is renewable every three years. In the current climate, the U.S. would never go with more government oversight, even though it might actually mean more equality.
The hard part, according to the Grapevine, is to determine which jobs are of equal value. One hospital is the largest employer in Iceland, and it is going to have difficulties showing which jobs might be equal. However, equality doesn’t come without hard work, and this bill is a step toward obtaining it. Still, officials say this new law will also mean the tackling of the whole economic system. For sure, it will. But it doesn’t mean the U.S. can’t try something similar.
The other set of laws has to do with keeping Kosher. I grew up in a Kosher home, with an immigrant father and a mother born in the U.S., but barely, as many of her brothers and sisters were not. Iceland has about 100 Jews in it, so it’s not exactly a pressing issue. However, Kosher laws, in my view, are inhumane. An animal must be slaughtered by slitting its throat, letting the blood drain, and not using any kind of stun gun or something similar.
In this day and age, some of the Old Testament is out of date, as things like slavery are no longer acceptable. Recently, I sat on a plane next to a young and clearly Orthodox Jew. I got into a discussion about Kosher laws and asked him if it’s better to kill a cow by ritual slaughter and eat it or to eat a clam. I voted for the clam, and he was horrified.
Fish, of course, is acceptable because it is not shellfish. In Iceland, no meat would be qualified to be Kosher given the laws here. This doesn’t even touch the religious laws about not mixing milk and meat, which originally had a humane reason; you could not fry a calf in its mother’s milk (butter).
However, not using a stunning instrument in this day and age is beyond the pale. It is time that the world adapt to laws like the ones in Iceland. Of course, it is easier to enact and enforce laws in a population of fewer than a million people, but that doesn’t mean laws that protect women and animals shouldn’t be enacted in civil societies.