On October 24th, 1975, 90% of the women in Iceland walked off the job for one day, bringing the country to a standstill. 

These nationwide “Women’s Day Off” demonstrations sparked a revolution for women’s rights in the country. Today, Iceland is known as one of the best countries in the world to be a woman. It is the only country in the world to close 90% of its gender gap, and it has ranked at the top of the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index for 14 consecutive years. But it wasn’t always this way. 

The Day Iceland Stood Still chronicles the feminist movements of the 1970s that led up to Iceland’s Women’s Day Off, featuring the women who drove this historic moment telling their story for the first time. 

This uplifting film had its world premiere this week at Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, where director Pamela Hogan told audiences that the film was 7 years in the making. When she first learned about the Women’s Day Off, she couldn’t believe a film hadn’t already been made about this incredible revolution.

“How could you get 9 out of 10 women anywhere to do the same thing at the same time?” Hogan writes in her director’s statement. “And how could the world not know about this unprecedented act of civil disobedience that transformed Icelandic society into an inspiration for us all?”

The film features women across various fields—from farmers to lawyers to bankers— tired of being paid less than their male co-workers, facing toxic work environments and constantly being passed over for promotions. Some of the women were part of The Red Stockings, a feminist movement known for their bold and evocative protests. 

The revolution in Iceland was not limited to issues in the workplace, but was also focused on inequality in the home. As part of the Oct. 24 strikes, many women refused to cook, do housework, or provide childcare. This was an eye-opener for many men who struggled to take on these responsibilities for the day. They referred to October 24 as “the long Friday.”

To make The Day Iceland Stood Still, Hogan partnered with Icelandic producer Hrafnhildur “Hrabba” Gunnarsdóttir, who attended the Women’s Day Off demonstrations in Reykjavik as a young girl, standing in solidarity with her mother and tens of thousands of other women and girls. Hogan also has a personal connection to the movement— in the early 1970s her mother became the first director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women.

“I’ve seen how often women’s narratives are overlooked – yet when they are told, they make such a difference,” Hogan writes.

The doc’s archival footage and interviews are interwoven with compelling animations by artist Joel Orloff. Along with plenty of candid humour from the activists, the animations bring levity to an already moving story.

“I spent time with some of these feminist pioneers, and when I discovered how they used humor strategically to open people’s ears to their message, I thought – this film could actually be fun,” wrote Hogan.

Nearly 50 years after the first Women’s Day Off strike, the fight is still ongoing for women in Iceland and around the world. On October 24 of last year, Iceland’s prime minister joined thousands of women on a full-day strike, raising awareness about the gender pay gap and gender-based violence that is still a reality for Icelandic women.

Watch a clip from The Day Iceland Stood Still describing how the Women’s Day Off was first proposed.