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The politics of parental leave policiesChildren, parenting, gender and the labour market$
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Sheila Kamerman and Peter Moss

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781847420671

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847420671.001.0001

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Iceland: from reluctance to fast-track engineering

Iceland: from reluctance to fast-track engineering

(p.159) Ten Iceland: from reluctance to fast-track engineering
The politics of parental leave policies

Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir

Gyda Margrét Pétursdóttir

Policy Press

Parental leave in Iceland has been developing since the Second World War. Until recently, it was a highly complex system that distinguished between different groups of women and men, with various entitlements and payments. The rights of women depended on whether they worked in the private or public sector of the labour market; while the system provided certain groups of men with some entitlements and totally excluded others. From 2000, parental leave in Iceland brought revolutionary changes for both parents. As a result, men in Iceland have the longest non-transferable father's leave quota in the world. These Icelandic reforms of the parental leave system have gained wide attention and have moved the country from a minimal system to a fast-track engineering of parental roles. The Nordic model of parental leave, with a special fathers' quota, today has its most radical expression in Iceland. This chapter explores the politics behind the Icelandic leave legislation. It is argued that several factors were influential in the emergence of the new radical system. First, the limitations of the previous system meant the implementation of the new system did not reduce existing rights. Second, court rulings had stated that it was illegal to discriminate between men and women concerning parental leave. It was evident that the exclusion of men under the previous system violated the constitution of Iceland. Third, the new reforms were based in the prevalent emphasis on men in the Nordic gender equality discourse. The fourth is the specific context of national politics in Iceland. In 2000, the right-wing government responded to strong pressure for gender equality measures regarding parental leave reform. This reform was not introduced as a family policy or welfare issue but as measure to address the gender pay gap. The broad political consensus mirrors the support for a fast-track social engineering approach and state intervention, exceptional in the liberal Icelandic political context which is characterised by a resentment of central authority and government.

Keywords:   parental leave, Iceland, women, parents, parental leave, Nordic model, fathers' quota, Icelandic leave legislation

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