Eliza Reid
Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World
Sourcebooks, February 2022
288 pages

“SPRAKKAR (plural noun)
An ancient Icelandic word meaning extraordinary or outstanding women.
Pronounced: SPRAH-car
(singular: sprakki)”

Iceland has been ranked 12 times as the country closest to gender parity by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. What makes Iceland different and what can it teach the rest of the world? Eliza Reid, Iceland’s Canadian-born first lady, takes on these questions in her new book.

Told through the stories of women who span generations, sectors, cultures, and experiences, Secrets of the Sprakkar pays due tribute to the policies that make Iceland one of the best places for women in the world, including a full year of paid parental leave, heavily subsidized childcare, and legislation mandating equal pay for equal work and 40% female representation on corporate boards. These policies are matched by an impressive record of achievement: the first democratically elected female head of state, a legislature that is nearly 50% female, 75% female labor force participation (compared to 56% in the United States), and a wage gap that has fallen to 4%, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Iceland.

But Reid notes that much work remains. Women still earn 25% less income from work than men, only 13% of the CEOs of Iceland’s largest companies are women, and men continue to dominate many sectors, running from fisheries to investment. And she points out that with a population roughly equivalent to Anaheim, California that was until recently almost entirely connected by family bonds, Iceland is unique in many ways.

How will Iceland—and the rest of the world—move forward? Reid’s answer is clear: “To achieve gender equality, we cannot leave anyone behind, including immigrant women, women of color, women with disabilities, and queer women. We need to work with the many male allies here, who also benefit from increased balance and who recognize that gender equality serves everyone, not one gender at the expense of another.”

“The people of Iceland are changing the world by bringing gender equality within reach. But the secrets to doing so…are in plain sight for us all to see…the secrets lie in letting go of the unrealistic ‘having it all’ balancing act and in doing what we can with what we have…It means nourishing our arts, our culture, and our athletics, not by comparing women to men but by letting everyone’s unique voices be heard. It’s moving with the times, helping trans girls and women live the lives they know are right for them, and recognizing the unique challenges immigrants face and the valuable contributions they make. It’s understanding, on both a national legal level and a personal moral level, that sexual and gender-based violence are never acceptable, under any circumstances, and that women who are victims of such assault are not to blame. It’s [hiring female workers and funding female entrepreneurs] and giving them access to the same funds while also compensating our lowest-paid workers, most of whom are women, fairly for their work. It’s leaving no one behind, women, men, or non-binary people; native-born or immigrant; with or without disabilities, on our journey to parity so that all will benefit.”

To learn more:

Read Eliza Reid’s March 2022 column for CNN, “The ancient Icelandic word ‘sprakkar’ means outstanding women. And they’re all around us.”

Watch Eliza Reid’s conversation with Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, sponsored by Politics and Prose: