At first glance, Saudi Arabia and Iceland have little in common. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2012 report, which compares progress towards gender equality in 135 countries, Saudi Arabia ranked 131st while Iceland, a country of 322,000 citizens, led list. And yet Iceland’s proposal to ban online pornography puts it in the company of Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, travel without a man’s permission, and have the right to restricted vote. Why does liberal Iceland want to ban online pornography?
Iceland’s proposed ban can be seen as a continuation of earlier legislation aimed at regulating the sex industry. In 2009, he introduced fines and prison terms for those who frequent prostitutes (but not the prostitutes themselves, whom the law treats as victims). In 2010, he banned strip clubs. And distributing and selling pornography in Iceland has actually been illegal since 1869.
The main reason behind the proposed ban seems paradoxical: it is the result of Iceland being a very liberal place. The country is ruled by the world’s only openly lesbian prime minister, while 65% of Icelandic children are born out of wedlock (more than any other OECD country). Children receive extensive sex education in schools. Mini-vibrators and condoms are sold at supermarket checkouts. Along with Norway and Sweden, Iceland has one of the highest rates of female enrollment in tertiary education (females outnumber males 3: 2). The pay gap between men and women is among the lowest in the world and the rate of female participation in the labor force is one of the highest. Just after Finland, and at the same time as Denmark, Iceland was one of the first countries to grant the right to vote to women in 1915. The powerful Icelandic feminist movement is now championing the ban on voting. online pornography, especially that which is violent or degrading, mainly towards women.
Banning pornography online would be tricky. The definition of violent or degrading pornography should be clearly enshrined in law. Iceland would then have to monitor the Internet, a difficult thing to do. When Denmark and Australia introduced online blacklists in an attempt to block pornographic sites, some harmless websites mistakenly slipped onto the lists. Offline, Iceland’s previous efforts to crack down on the sex industry have had mixed results: although all but two of the country’s 15 strip clubs have closed, only 20 prostitution-related cases have. been taken to court, and the 1869 ban on the sale of pornography was not in effect, with magazines freely available in stores. If one country can pass legislation against pornography, it is Iceland (although if the government loses the general election on April 27, the plan could lose momentum). But the implementation and enforcement of such laws will likely prove to be much more difficult.
• What else should The Economist Explain? Send us your suggestions.