When I was growing up in Iceland, I was surrounded by powerful Icelandic women. My mother came from the “West fjords” in northwest Iceland where life was harsh, nature was brutal, and women often had to lead the fight for their families survival.
The powerful women in my family
My grandmother on my father’s side came from the relatively isolated Snæfellsnes peninsula. In most coastal areas in Iceland, the main livelihood at the beginning of the 20th century came from fishing. This challenging profession was centered on navigating the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. My great-grandfather, Adalsteinn, had bought his own fishing boat to provide for his family. That included my great grandmother Helga, for whom I am named, and my grandmother Kristin for whom I also named. Adalsteinn’s ship tragically went down on the coast. It was visible to the village where he had been born and in front of his wife and two-year-old daughter.
The day after the officials of the area came to collect all of the belongings of the family to pay for the boat that had just gone down so tragically.
Fortunately, Helga had a good friend, a woman, who agreed before the officials arrived that it would be best that Helga would give her belongings to her, to prevent them from being taken from her. A powerful act by a powerful friend who managed to save family treasures. Some of these treasures still belong to the family. When my wonderful Aunt Helga (also named after our grandmother) told me this story I was impressed by the power of this incident. I wasn’t only impressed by the kindness but also the courage of my great-grandmother’s friend in those days.
The heroes and role models for Icelandic women
Since I was a young woman, my group of friends and I have shared stories of our fore mothers in Iceland. We also talked about great Icelandic women heroes of ours. Such as the first woman president of the Republic of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Also, Audur Laxness, an important entrepreneur, contributor, and supporter to the success of our Nobel prize winner, Halldór Laxness. The women settlers of Iceland and other Viking women went through tough situations, took risks, and found a way to survive powerfully. They played a crucial role in making the world more tolerable to those around them.
We have made trips to honor these women, visited their places of birth and so on and so forth. Other mentions; Halla Tómasdóttir CEO of Bteam, Björk the artist , Hildur Guðna composer and multi award winner. This is of course only a small sample of amazing Icelandic women.
Indeed, Iceland has produced many women who have made a significant difference to its society, and in many cases, well beyond our borders. Our heritage of empowerment—in many cases borne out of necessity like in the case of my foremothers—helps sustain a culture which, while not perfect, is one of high support, encouragement, and expectation.
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