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Interview with Tatjana Latinovic - Icelandic Women's Rights Association (Iceland)

Updated: Jul 4, 2023





















About Ms. Tatjana Latinovic

Ms. Tatjana Latinovic is a founding member W.O.M.E.N., which is a non-profit organization for immigrant women. She is a human right’s activist with a focus on immigrant and feminist issues. And she is the current president of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association (IWRA), which serves to reduce inequality for women.


Gender Equality Statistics:

Gender Development Index: 0.966

Gender Inequality Index: 0.043



 

Complete Interview With Ms. Tatjana Latinovic


Catherine Begun

Our guest today is Ms. Tatjana Latinovic. She's a human rights activist. Her focus is on feminist issues and immigrant issues. She is a founding member of W.O.M.E.N., which is a non-profit organization for immigrant women. In addition to that, she is the first immigrant to be elected to the chair of the Icelandic Women's Rights Association, or the IWRA, organization on women. She currently serves as the president of that organization. To start our interview, our first question will be on the topic of gender equality.


Natalia von Gierke

What are the stereotypes of women in Iceland?


Tatjana Latinovic

If you mean stereotypes of what the people outside of Iceland have of women in Iceland, I would say it would probably be that we live in equality paradise on earth, that Iceland is a very equal country, and that we are very privileged, which I think that we are. But I think also that people think that the Icelandic women are very strong and emancipated. If you would think about what stereotypes we have, or women in Iceland of ourselves, it would be that we have reached the highest level of equality in the world, even though we haven't reached the top, but also that we are ambitious, well-educated, very hardworking. Most women in Iceland, work outside of their homes. We are ambitious and career driven but also carry the households, homes, and families on our shoulders. It's like sort of the stereotype of a woman who has it all. And research has actually shown recently that in heterosexual couples and families, women still carry the bigger part of the burden of caring for children, households, and so on. But I think that's it. You know stronger, ambitious women.


Juan Sola-Corbacho

Have you seen these stereotypes changing in time in the last two, three, four, even five decades?


Tatjana Latinovic

I think it is changing, yes. I think that the stereotype that I was describing was of a modern Icelandic woman. I think it has changed. Before it was a family caretaker, a strong, strong woman always, but I think we are also becoming more aware of the fact that women in the labor market, which is very gender segregated in Iceland, populate the positions or jobs that are more of a nursing, teaching and, - caretaking. Covid that they were the ones that carried the burden of the pandemic mostly.


Lydia Carrasco-Bueno

How do you think women in medicine are perceived today compared to other fields? And how has this changed over time?


Tatjana Latinovic

I wonder why you ask me about the medicine especially. Can you elaborate on that?


Lydia Carrasco-Bueno

I saw the company that you work for kind of deals a little bit with medicine.


Tatjana Latinovic

So, my company, the company I work for is a medical device company, in the field orthotics and prosthetics. The part of the company I work for is research and development, and it is mostly engineers. In some of our teams there is more gender balance than in others. So, I think that you know for my colleagues, female engineers, that gender is not an issue in their jobs. But if you talk about medicine or health care in general, I think it's becoming, at least in Iceland, more female occupied. So, we have more women as doctors and nurses. So maybe access to education has increased, but also interest.


Juan Sola-Corbacho

In what way do you think social media has impacted the image of women?


Tatjana Latinovic

It has to do about the expectations that society puts on women. It has always been put on women, but I think that now, with the social media and the artistic content, it’s just becoming more and more visible. And I think when it comes to what I said earlier about Iceland women sort of having it all, career and jobs are looking great and making it in time to the gym every day, and so it puts this sort of pressure that if you haven't posted it on LinkedIn or Instagram, it hasn't happened. But, on the other hand, I think that social media is also a powerful tool to learn about the lives of others and circumstances. I’m not very negative about social media, but sometimes you really need to have a high level of common sense to filter through the whole content that we are all bombarded with every day.


Christopher Nguyen

In this one interview regarding the #MeToo movement, you mentioned that immigrant women faced harder circumstances regarding gender inequality versus the native-born women in Iceland. I was wondering if you can describe how being an immigrant has added another layer or dimension to gender inequality or gender violence?


Tatjana Latinovic

Regarding the #MeToo movement, I do not know if you are familiar with or have read what happened in Iceland, but we had a very, very strong #MeToo movement several years ago where women started organizing on social media, on Facebook, on posts in close groups. First were the women in politics, so women of power and privilege really. They came up with their stories. And then there were women in medicine, lawyers, actors and so on. Some of us women of foreign origin noticed that there were hardly any immigrant women sharing their stories in those groups. So, we decided to form such a group, and I thought we'll just hear a few. And then all of a sudden, it was six hundreds of us that were in that group, and the stories we heard from women of foreign origin were so much harder than stories that we heard in other groups, even though those were also sometimes very horrible and sad. But what we saw was that there was this extra layer. There was this prejudice that women of foreign origin were facing in their

circumstances that women of Icelandic did not. Icelandic women have the network of their families and friends. They know the society. They know the language. Many foreign women don't speak Icelandic. They faced discrimination by their employers, by institutions of the society. For example, they were threatened, some of them were threatened by their residence permit would be taken away if they complain, or they would lose a job, and they would have to leave the country etc. Also, seclusion, as many of them, you know, did not have anyone to talk to or have network around. So, these were sort of extra layers, of discrimination and hardship that they had to go through. So, this is what I was referring to in that interview.


Rachel Patton

What changes, whether negative or positive have you seen since the beginning of your work for women’s rights?


Tatjana Latinovic

I would say quite a lot. I would say awareness of women’s issues has increased dramatically. It has become sort of a mainstream topic of conversation, if you will, perhaps with the help of social media. At least in Iceland nobody would think that equality is not good. People might argue about. The ways to achieve it, or on the level of equality that we have achieved. But I think in general we agree that we should, as a society, strive towards gender equality.


On the other hand, basic human rights of women are trodden upon in many parts of the world, as we all know, and sometimes in our backyards of our home gardens. So, you don't have to go very far to see what is happening. I think that the fight for women's rights and human rights is a never-ending task, because societies change, and also our understanding of diversity, of how diverse societies are, it deepens so this also brings new challenges into the struggle that we need to learn, learn to listen and learn. Empathy really gets you a long way. I think you have to try to put yourself in other people's shoes.


Sahil Prakash

If you were in charge of improving and promoting gender equality across the entire world. What was the first thing you would do?


Tatjana Latinovic

This is such a great question, It's so nice. I wish I was in charge.

I was thinking a lot about how to answer this. I think for everyone to put their gender and diversity classes on and look at everything they are doing through them. Could we improve this legislation, education, or economy? Access to this society by considering diverse points of view? And to do that,. I think I would make as diverse a team as I could and try to listen to as many as I could, because there's many things we don’t know because we don’t experience them ourselves. It doesn't mean that they are not important. Thank you for the question.


Christopher Nguyen

Do you believe there is a place for men to help fight against gender inequality, and if so, what role should they play?


Tatjana Latinovic

I do believe that men profit as well as women in gender equality. The fight for women's rights is not directed against men. It's for them. It's against patriarchal structures that negatively impact everyone. So, men's role in this fight could be to be allies. To listen and don’t oppose progress and keep their hands off the legislation directed to women’s autonomy and keep their hands off our bodies as they would do when it comes to men’s. So, the least men can do is not be a part of the problem and be part of the solution.


Chloe Tran

How will you spread awareness on gender equality as an individual?


Tatjana Latinovic

I would say, by taking part, participating in activities, for example, of grassroots organizations. I come, you know, all my activism has started, and is very much rooted in grassroots organizations, and that's where I like to work the most. I think this is where you can really have a very quick and good impact. So, I think this is what everybody can do, to take part or support grassroot organizations, and also then getting involved if you're interested in your workplace or in politics, and when I talk about politics it doesn't only mean legislature, I know that you have a different system in yours than we have, but everything is politics. So, I think by sort of keeping your gender equality glasses on in whatever you do.


Jackson Philbrook

You have been in the leadership role for multiple nonprofit organizations aiming to help women. What is the most important thing you have learned from being a leader in those situations that kind of garnered so much opposition regarding gender equality?


Tatjana Latinovic

I think what I have learned is that as a leader, the structures in Iceland are pretty, you know, vertical. It's very important to get people involved, and convinced and not speak for everyone, but rather give other people platform to express themselves. So, I've always tried to have when I work on boards in to encourage people to run for a seat. You know again, gather as diverse group of people around you as you possibly can, but then be very focused on issues that you are working on. There are just so many injustices in the world that if you were jumping at every one, you'd sort of lose energy. But I think focusing on a certain goal is very, very helpful and explain, explain, explain. For example, when we started with W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland, an association of foreigners, there were so few immigrants then in Iceland, and they were sort of invisible and we wanted to give women of foreign origin a voice, this was our main goal, which was very well accepted actually. So, education is also a big issue or spreading the information.


Caroline Crosley

Do you think any of the major issues being addressed in either of your organizations will eventually be resolved sometime in the near future? If so, when and how do you think they'll be resolved? And if not, what do you think is keeping these changes from happening?


Tatjana Latinovic

I am trying to think of an answer of an issue that will be resolved soon. I think that equality is a sort of a moving target. It moves as society changes, or our understanding of society improves. But what I think will happen, well I hope that happens soon is we will have a completely equal parental leave. I don’t know if you know about this. I think this is one of the things that Iceland is very good at compared to other parts of the world. We have parental leave that both parents can share, and right now part of it is by one parent and the other by another, then part of it they can decide which one will take it. Then it is mostly women who take longer time off from work which affects their position in society. So, I think that by lobbying for equal parental leave this is one of the low-hanging fruits that we could reach soon. Also closing the gender pay gap. I think, with the legislation that we have now this is possible even though we are not there yet, and there are other issues to consider there, as I mentioned that our labor market is quite gender separated there are jobs that are really just done majority by women or men.


Natalia von Gierke

What has been done in Iceland to help combat gender inequality. I know you've spoken about it a little bit but like in Iceland specifically compared to other countries. What do you think they're doing that does help to combat gender inequality?


Tatjana Latinovic

I think what we are exceptionally good at is, our legislation around equality. We have quite progressive legislation aimed at increasing equality in society, for example parental leave that I have already mentioned, equal pay legislation and equal pay standard etc. Interestingly, we notice a significant increase of laws being discussed and passed at the parliament since 2009, which is the year women participation in parliament reached 43%. So, this means that increased participation is vital for development of just and equal society.


Dr. Juan Sola-Corbacho

You are talking about legislation as one of the most important achievements in your country and let me ask you in general what you think is more important than legislation or about these cases.


Tatjana Latinovic

Well, I would say both are important. Legislation is not the only important aspect. Following up on how it is applied, and how it is implemented is very important as well. People, companies, and institutions should know what the consequences are if you do not follow this legislation. Another important aspect is education. When it comes to it, my organization has for many years been advocating for gender studies to be part of curriculum in high schools, and in primary schools. We think that this is especially important, and we do have some pioneers in Iceland focusing on this. We are working very closely with each other, and we notice that when the student is exposed to this type of education from an early age, it helps. You see the world differently.


Lydia Carrasco-Bueno

Do you think that what has been achieved in Iceland in terms of gender equality can be achieved in other countries whereas much progress has not been made, such as the United States.


Tatjana Latinovic

I do not know that we would be able to “copy” Icelandic solutions to equality to another society. But I think that you could do a lot to show people, and people can learn from our experience. But again, I would caution against copying everything and saying, “why don’t we make everything like Iceland,” for every country because it just would not fit.


Tim Martin

In your opinion, how does Iceland stack up in feminist issues against specifically the rest of Europe and Eastern Europe? And how does it stack up against the rest of the world?


Tatjana Latinovic

Well, Iceland has topped the global gender gap index for now, for thirteen years. There is a way, right? We have closed 90.8% of the gender gap. So yes, we are doing something right. Yes, we are doing very well, but I think that what we could improve is to expand the legislation and tools that we have acquired and learned to implement over the years in gender equality to address other dimensions of discrimination. If we could adopt them and implement them to include other dimensions of inequality like the origin, disability etc. that would be great.


Luke Anderson

So, I was just wondering, in your opinion, how can people here in America like us in this classroom help to advocate against gender inequality not only here, but also help support other countries where it may be more severe


Tatjana Latinovic

Using platforms and programs that are in place, not only for us, but influencing the countries we work with.


Avery Jett

I was interested in something you mentioned during your interview with the magazine Pass Blue, one year ago, and you were talking about the critiques of the Government originally. Like emergency planners for Iceland, recovering from the pandemic, and how the Government had modified these programs to be more equitable and focused on women as well as just men. And do you believe that these improved government programs have been affected?


Tatjana Latinovic

Honestly, I do not know. Iceland has been in an economic crisis for years, in 2008 Iceland was almost bankrupt as we experienced a big economic crisis, and certain programs were put in place. But they were about construction, which requires mostly male-dominated jobs and stuff like that. So, what was done, in a single attempt, wanting to be efficient, they just implemented similar programs which were not appropriate for the COVID crisis. One of the feminist organizations in Iceland, Feminist Budgeting, had analyzed the program and viewed it through a gender lens! Their analysis showed that the rescue program was mis-disproportionate towards helping women. For example, there was help for subsidies. People would want to go into construction and build something, but then you could also get tax deductions. During COVID men could have something built, but hair saloons were closed. These saloons mostly employed women, and they were not getting any support. They managed to fix some of these things, but it shows that we need to put our gender lens on for diversity. When you bring legislation or programs in without a lens, it can turn out bad because you will just simply not see certain things and not be able to address them.


Dr. Juan Sola-Corbacho

We have not talked about gender-based violence yet in class. What is the situation in your country, and what is the government doing to deal with gender-based violence? What is your opinion about the strategy implemented by the Government?


Tatjana Latinovic

Gender-based violence is a profoundly severe problem in Iceland as it is in other countries. Our government and society are not doing enough. Our authorities are not doing enough! There is a lot to talk about - people file charges for gender-based violence, but fewer cases go through the system and get to court, and even fewer perpetrators are sentenced. The situation is not good, and we have some younger organizations, younger activists that are really starting to fight now. Gender-based violence has been happening for years and is still happening. We need to educate young people on boundaries and communication, because violence has become normalized in relationships.

Avery Jett

After reading about your work with the Icelandic Women's Rights Association. I was interested in hearing a little bit more about the Kynjathing feminist forum. I think that's such a cool way to foster a community of women, and I was wondering if you could speak about your involvement in the feminine form and any particular success stories that came out of this.


Tatjana Latinovic

“Kynja” means gender and “thing” in this instance means a gathering. We have Althing, which is our Parliament, so this is a play on words, and this is actually something that IWRA founded a few years ago. We decided we were the oldest feminist organization, and one of the oldest organizations in Iceland founded in 1907, so everybody knows who we are. We have an employee. We decided we wanted to, with Kynjathing, create a feminist forum, to give a platform to others; other organizations, or individuals, or people; and to exchange stories, to exchange experiences, and just to get together to meet. We decided we would not organize any of the sessions there, we would just offer platform. We rented a place and put-up infrastructure, and people came, which was very nice. After the first Kynjathing that we had, at least one organization was founded, Feminist Budgeting. They had a lecture about gender financing, and so that's a success story, I think. And after that we had the second one, which was also very well received and very well visited. We had very interesting lectures and stories; we had one about women in politics and transgender rights, and so on. The next one was on zoom because of Covid. But that was also nice, and I thought that it taught us the lesson that we should record everything and post it for people to be able to see it later on. We just had the fourth one now in May, which is a great success. I'm really proud of what we are doing there. It is done under our umbrella, and we organize it. It's already become very well known, and so we always learn a lot, and see some old faces, but also new faces there, and sort of spread the word and strengthen the grassroots.


Sahil Prakash

As President of the Icelandic Women's Rights Association, what's been one of the biggest challenges you have faced?


Tatjana Latinovic

Compared to everything else, I don't think that I've faced many challenges while working in this organization. I think what we are facing, as always, is a lack of finances, and keeping our work afloat. We only have one employee. One would think that we have many employees, based on what we are doing. I think that this is the biggest challenge that we have, making sure that we have resources to do everything that we need to do, but there is much more that we would want to be doing.


Tim Martin

Why do you think, in your personal opinion, it took so long for an immigrant to be elected of chair the IWRA?


Tatjana Latinovic

Well, first of all, at the beginning there were hardly any immigrants here, so I think that that is not strange. But I remember when we founded W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland, a foreign women’s organization, we received a lot of support from the Icelandic feminist movement, and the President and Secretary-General of the IWRA really helped us a lot. I don't know honestly, because I have been involved so much in the feminist movement and the activist movement that I didn’t think it was a big deal that I was elected President, but it was actually, I think it's quite remarkable. This is what I want Icelandic society to look like, feminist movement included. We are all women from Iceland, regardless of where we come from and there are many more issues that unite us than divide us.


Tyler Dunn

What positive impact have you been able to make as the President of the IWRA?


Tatjana Latinovic

I hope, many. Maybe most important is that I showed it was possible, another glass ceiling was broken, and I hope I’m not the last one. But the organization is more open now and is focusing more on diversity and inclusiveness. We take an inclusive approach in everything we do now. Whatever we do, whenever we organize or write a comment on a bill or law in Parliament, we always take this approach that we represent all genders and all of the diverse women in society.


Rachel Patton

What inspired you to be active in the Iceland Women Rights Association?


Tatjana Latinovic

I think it's about wanting to belong and make your impact on the society that you live in. I think it also has to do with how small Icelandic society is and how centralized it is. The lines of communication are shorter, and so we are able to see the impact quite quickly. But first of all, I just wanted to give something back to the society that had welcomed me when I moved to Iceland.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Tomorrow you will wake up as the new President of Iceland. What is the very first thing that you would do with that power?


Tatjana Latinovic

If I were a President? Well, Icelandic Presidents don't have much power. As Prime Minister?


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Yes, Prime Minister.


Tatjana Latinovic

If I were that, I would treat immigrant issues in the Government as equality issues, as they're still considered welfare issues, but I would want to put them in the same place. that gender equality is in order to be able to implement all the tools and legislation that we have for more impact. I would also continue battling the gender pay cup and the segregated labor market.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Thank you very much.


Brennan Herold

We just wanted to say thank you so much for taking this time out of your day to come and inform us on everything that's been going on in your organization. Thank you so much.

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