Student Voices: GW Grad Student Travels to Iceland for the 2023 Arctic Circle Assembly

Laura Goodfield presented research and attended panels at the high-profile international event in the northernmost part of the Earth.

November 30, 2023

Research trip to Iceland

Research professor Marya Rozanova-Smith (l) and Laura Goodfield stand next to one of six posters in COVID-GEA’s “Arctic Women’s Voices” exhibit.

I had the opportunity in the fall 2023 semester to travel to Iceland to attend the largest high-profile international Arctic event—2023 Arctic Circle Assembly—and to participate in research activities. I accompanied George Washington University Department of Geography research professor Marya Rozanova-Smith as a research assistant on the project titled “Understanding the Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 in the Arctic (COVID-GEA).” The National Science Foundation funded the project for which I had been a research assistant for a year prior to the travel, and I was thrilled at the chance to attend the annual Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, as well as travel north to Akureyri, to learn more about one of the project’s study sites.

At the conference, I broadened my knowledge concerning Arctic affairs by attending panels such as “The NATO Perspective on the Arctic,” “Indigenous Peoples in Global Solutions” and “Arctic Science Diplomacy.” The panels and plenary sessions revolved around pertinent themes of climate change, Indigenous rights and peacekeeping in the Arctic region. As a graduate student in public health, I was able to learn from Indigenous leaders and medical practitioners alike through panels such as “Youth Networks Through Mental Health Wellbeing Projects” and “Indigenous Health and Well-Being: The Lancet Commission on Arctic and Northern Health.” We also had the opportunity to discuss the findings of our paper “Understanding the COVID-19 pandemic gendered policy responses in Alaska through the prism of a holistic wellness concept,” published this June in the Arctic Yearbook, with lead experts in Arctic research.

During the Arctic Circle Assembly, Rozanova-Smith and I had the opportunity to present the COVID-GEA project to a diverse audience of policymakers, Indigenous leaders and researchers. Rozanova-Smith served as a panelist for “Gender and Disaggregated Data in the Arctic Region,” where she and her colleagues emphasized the need for governments, academia and statistical databases to collect data that allows researchers to uncover and understand the gendered needs of individuals living in the Arctic region. Additionally, they spoke of the importance of collecting regional data, a call to action of particular importance to our COVID-GEA project, as we are creating a database of regional gendered COVID-19 policy responses to accompany the United Nations’ national-level gendered COVID-19 policy database.

As someone who has spent time working for my local government in Boston through the Mayor’s Youth Council, I was pleased that the COVID-GEA project facilitated a panel focusing on the decision-making power of Arctic mayors, highlighted through the panel.

fjord in Iceland
Eyjafjörður Fjord in Akureyri, Iceland. (Photo courtesy of Laura Goodfield)

Urban Youth and Resilience of Arctic Cities.” Rozanova-Smith moderated this panel, hosting Mayor Rebecca Alty of Yellowknife, Canada; Mayor Dickie Moto of Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska; Mayor Carina Sammeli of Luleå, Sweden; Mayor Ásthildur Sturludóttir of Akureyri, Iceland; and Chair of Luleå Municipal Assembly Daniel Smirat, among others. We all sat down to dinner later that night alongside Young Arctic Leaders in Research and Education Program (YALREP) members, learning about youth issues from Nuuk, Greenland, to Sitka, Alaska. It was the experience of a lifetime to be connected and learn from so many residents and researchers of the Arctic region, an experience that would not have been possible without the support of  Rozanova-Smith and the COVID-GEA project.

After the conference, Rozanova-Smith and I traveled to Iceland’s second-largest city, Akureryi, situated in the north of Iceland on the Eyjafjörður Fjord. In Reykjavik, we endured driving Arctic winds and rain, wind so strong that it shut down the Keflavik International Airport, causing many conference attendees to arrive days late. In Akureyri, we enjoyed sunny, albeit chilly, October temperatures of 0 degrees Celsius, surrounded by the snowy mountaintops of the fjord.

Here, we had a meeting at the Directorate of Equality of Iceland to learn more about the post-pandemic situation concerning gender equality. We also prepared for the upcoming presentations on the COVID-GEA findings for local communities and the audio-visual exhibit “Arctic Women’s Voices: Standing Strong in the Face of COVID-19” in both Akureyri and Húsavík, a small town about an hour away.

Coincidentally, we were in Iceland during the national women’s strike. The original strike was on Oct. 24, 1975, and was meant to raise awareness about gender equality and equal pay. This Oct. 24, women across Iceland, including the prime minister, participated in the strike, known as the “Women’s Day Off” or “Kvennafrí” in Icelandic. Women were urged to not only strike from their paid jobs but also go on strike for the unpaid labor that happens within the home—childcare, cooking, cleaning—that is often disproportionately left to women. While Iceland is regarded as one of “the most gender equal” countries in the world, the 2023 Kvennafrí serves as a reminder that gender equality and gender-based violence are a cause we must continuously work toward, rejecting complacency and "near" equality.

Our project, “Understanding the Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 in the Arctic (COVID-GEA),” similarly highlighted the gendered struggles women in Iceland faced during the pandemic. As the world transitions into a post-lockdown new normal, it remains imperative to maintain gender-based lenses of analysis to further understand the nuances of local and global crises. I’m forever thankful for my experience working and traveling with Rozanova-Smith on this project, and I hope that other GW students will consider academic research as a possible career option!