On October 5th, the University of Iceland launched its seventh iteration of Equality Days, a two-week-long festival put on by a collaborative team of students, staff and faculty to highlight equality in its many forms. The focus is on intersectionality, the connections between different subjects, and in their description of this year’s programme, the organisers, Arnar and Ugla, enthusiastically illuminated the immense teamwork and creativity that has gone into putting these together.
The opening event of Equality Days took place last Monday. The audience was plunged into darkness as seeing and blind artists, including a musician, a stand-up comedian, and a writer, shared their works with the crowd in a completely darkened space, a twist on the expectations of the audience. Reversals of the norm are key in Equality Days, from past events which have taken place in sign language, with written interpretation for the hearing, to the much anticipated closing party, which last year was promoted as being straight-friendly. The aim is to inform people on topics that may not be common knowledge, and to explore the nature of accommodation and normality in a playful, but thought-provoking, manner. As the organisers pointed out, normative groups are not necessarily aware of their position of privilege. From their eye-catching posters, with translucent paper evoking both “trans” and “transparency,” to their partnerships with student organisations as well as outside groups, there is a sense that they have embraced both the dynamic nature of their work and the delicacy of the issues they address.
These issues will repeatedly overlap. While four core themes -- gender, queer, international, and disability -- are identified by the festival as areas of focus, there is no sharp line dividing them. In this year’s programme, Equality Days will respond to current concerns about the Middle East, while marking the 20th anniversary of the term “gender mainstreaming.” Where the two coincide will become apparent in Tuesday’s talk on Islamophobia and gender equality. The talk was in Icelandic, as are many of the events and parts of the programme. There are some gaps in the English-language schedule, as the event descriptions are written by the event hosts, and those taking place in Icelandic are not always translated. However, some events will be in English or a combination of languages, and according to Arnar, many of the participants are Icelanders with an international background, an area of much importance for Equality Days.
Both Arnar and Ugla identified the international theme as one that will likely be at the forefront of the festival this year. Issues surrounding refugees, language, and immigration are on people’s minds, and the organisers expressed an intention to reflect their concerns. A significant part of their task each year is to identify at once what students are interested in hearing about, and how best to inform them about events, and this shows through in the emphasis on social media and the flexibility of the programme.
Events can occur anywhere in the city, and the range of venues is expanding. In a change from previous years, Equality Days will this year be put on in partnership with Listaháskóli Íslands, the Icelandic Academy for the Arts, and the opening day brought together all seven universities in Iceland. Although the festival has from the beginning featured a number of organisations in its events, including the Multicultural Centre and the Centre for Equality, this is a new step for both schools.
With new partnerships and growing popularity, it would seem that Equality Days is aiming to increase in the coming years, but Arnar favoured a different focus. “Linear growth is not always a great thing,” he told me; instead, he hoped to concentrate on maintaining a broad range of events, bringing in new topics or making new connections between them, and improving collaboration between all the participants. Depth must not be put aside for size, and both he and Ugla are keen to avoid letting it become commercialised. The future of Equality Days will depend, ultimately, on the questions that are asked.
Equality Days will run from October 5th to October 16th, and the schedule can be found online at english.hi.is/university/equality_days_2015 programme (in English) or hi.is/adalvefur/jafnrettismal. Further details are also available through Facebook and Twitter.