Iceland's women-only party complains it's being treated like "little flowers" with little ideas. But a rival woman lawmaker says the feminists are not taking politics seriously and degrading Parliament.
Two years ago the Women's List, the world's first all-female party, captured six seats in the 63-member Althing, or parliament, and for a while it looked like a potential power-broker.But today, says Women's List lawmaker Thorhildur Thorleifsdottir, Iceland's male-dominated society and especially its media have formed "a very great coalition to silence us."
Male and female opponents say the Women's List won't be taken seriously unless it plays politics Icelandic-style - which the Women's List refuses to do, saying it means surrender to a system designed and run by men.
The Kvennalist, Icelandic for Women's List, is radical, anti-nuclear and opposes Iceland's membership in NATO.
This puts it outside the centrist political mainstream, as does its dogged insistence on being non-establishment. It has no hierarchy or leadership, operates by consensus, rotates members in and out of parliament and has an eight-year limit on being a lawmaker.
The Women's List sees these policies as strengths. Political rivals and Western diplomats say they are weaknesses.
"Hierarchy is very much a male thing. Women try to run their homes without a hierarchy, and we see this country as one large family," said Sigridur Duna Kristmundsdottir, a Kvennalist founder who served in Parliament for four years.
"We are very concerned about not having power accumulate in a few hands," she said.
Thorleifsdottir added: "We made it clear in the election that when you vote for our list, you vote for ideas, not for people. But, of course, that goes against all the rules. It's a threat to the system."
Opponents counter that seasoned, recognized leaders are needed if the Women's List wants to share power in a coalition, the traditional style of government in this north Atlantic island nation of 250,000 people.
Gudrun Helgadottir, the first female president of the Althing, the world's oldest parliament, said rotating members was absurd.
"Parliament is not meant to be some sort of schooling system," she complained. "I think it degrades the parliament."
Helgadottir, a member of the left-wing People's Alliance that belongs to the current three-party center-left governing coalition, said the need for consensus keeps the Women's List out of government.
"Such a movement can never be homogeneous enough to take political stands," she said.
But Kristmundsdottir said the Women's List has stayed out of coalitions because other parties would not meet its minimum demands.
"I would be happy if we have 15-16 percent of the vote in the next election, which would give us nine or 10 MPs and make us seriously consider entering a coalition group," she said.
Iceland gave women the vote before other European countries, and since 1980 it has had a woman president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir.