'The world's best place to be a woman' is being sued for misogyny

Members of Öfgar, an Icelandic feminist group that fights against gender based violence, pictured in Reykjavik in October 2021.

(CNN)The bruises on Maria Árnadóttir's body were numerous, ranging in color from pale yellow to deep purple.

According to court documents, the injuries were caused by Árnadóttir's boyfriend throwing her around the room while trying to wrestle her phone away from her after she threatened to call the police. For days after the attack, Árnadóttir struggled to breathe. Eventually, she ended up in the emergency room, the documents say.
Speaking quietly in her apartment in the suburbs of Reykjavik, she told CNN the man had attacked her before, but never as viciously as he did on that occasion in July 2016. "I really thought I was dying. He was pulling me and throwing me around. I thought 'I am going to die today,'" she said.
    Months later, she says she worked up the courage to go to the police, submitting photos of her injuries, medical notes, a list of witnesses to the violence and psychological abuse she was subjected to, as well as text messages from her alleged attacker, by then her ex-boyfriend, in which Árnadóttir says he admitted to the assault and threatened to share nude photos of her if she spoke up. A court filing includes all of these documents.
      According to the court documents, the man denied assaulting her, but admitted to sending the threat, although he said he never intended to follow up on it. CNN has reached out to the man's lawyer.
      But for the police, that evidence was not enough.
      A year and half after she had pressed charges, Árnadóttir says officers told her the case was being dropped because it would not lead to a conviction.
      She later discovered that was not true. The case had not been dropped. Instead, the police failed to interview the accused and as a result, the statute of limitation expired in their hands, according to the judicial authorities who later reviewed the case.
      Árnadóttir is one of several women collectively taking their government to the European Court of Human Rights over what they say is a misogynistic justice system that systematically violates the rights of victims of gender-based violence.
      The strange twist in the tale? These women live in Iceland, long celebrated as the world's most gender equal country.
      Maria Árnadóttir is one of the women suing Iceland for violating the rights of the victims of domestic violence.
      On paper, Iceland is a great place to be a woman. For 12 years running, it has been crowned the world's top place for gender equality by the World Economic Forum.
      It has world-leading equal pay and anti-discrimination laws. Women hold 47% of the seats in its Parliament and make up 46% of the boards of Icelandic companies.
      Childcare is heavily subsidized and available to all. Maternity healthcare is free.
      But for Árnadóttir and many other women struggling to see justice done, Iceland's portrayal as a feminist paradise is a far cry from reality -- far enough to take the country to court.
      The lawsuit, launched in March, was coordinated by several Icelandic NGOs, including Stígamót, a non-profit that campaigns against domestic and sexual violence and provides counseling for survivors.
      Steinunn Guðjónsdóttir, Stígamót's spokesperson and fundraising manager, told CNN the group reviewed a number of recent cases of alleged violence against women that had been dismissed by the police or prosecutors, and found that the victims' rights had allegedly been violated in several of them.
      Steinunn Guðjónsdóttir is the spokesperson and fundraising manager at Stigamot, an NGO that is fighting sexual violence, providing counseling for survivors and running prevention workshops.
      Guðjónsdóttir said these included examples where evidence had been ignored, statutes of limitation expiring because of lack of action by the police, victim shaming and a complete lack of transparency.
      Guðjónsdóttir said there is still a significant gap between the law and the way it's being implemented.
      "The justice system looks at rape as a very, very, very serious crime, in terms of the punishment, but it doesn't get any of the manpower and attention. When there is a murder -- which happens very rarely in Iceland -- the whole police force goes to investigate and it's just a huge priority. That's obviously not the case with rape," she said.
      Transparency is also an issue, Guðjónsdóttir said, pointing out that under Icelandic law, victims do not have the right to view their case files, which means they cannot monitor the progress of an investigation.
      In a statement to CNN, the Icelandic Ministry of Justice said that while "it has concluded that a certain mistake was made during the investigation [of Árnadóttir's case], the government's opinion is that the mistake does not meet the minimum level of severity" to qualify as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
      The Icelandic Police did not comment on the case, referring instead to the Ministry of Justice.

      The feminist paradise with a gender-based violence problem

      Murder cases may be rare in Iceland, but rapes aren't.
      According to a 2018 landmark study into trauma, a quarter of Icelandic women have experienced rape or attempted rape over their lifetimes and around 40% have been subjected to physical or sexual violence. That number is significantly higher than the global average -- the World Health Organization says around 30% of women worldwide have been subjected to physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
      Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir and Arna Hauksdóttir, two public health experts and epidemiologists at the University of Iceland who conducted the research, reached out to nearly all women in Iceland. They ended up surveying more than 30,000 people -- almost a third of the country's entire female adult population, spread across rural and urban areas and representing a cross-section of Icelandic society.
      They admitted the results of their study came as a shock. "We were quite struck by the very high proportion of women that have experienced either physical or sexual violence during their lifetime," Hauksdóttir told CNN.
      "People had a hard time believing that these are real numbers," Valdimarsdóttir added. "The spontaneous reaction is basically '40%?! No way!'"
      Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir and Arna Hauksdóttir are public health experts and epidemiologists at the University of Iceland.
      "Even I must admit that I didn't want to believe it myself," she said. "And then I started to go through my friends and we started talking a lot about it, and it sounds right ... when you look at your girlfriends and you take 20 of them ... I would say maybe eight of them have that experience."
      Valdimarsdóttir and Hauksdóttir said the results were particularly hard to square with Iceland's strong culture of gender equality.
      "Iceland is a great place to be a woman, we have access to health care, childcare ... education and to a lot of things that most of the people living on this Earth don't have ... but we still have these numbers," Hauksdóttir said.
      She said it is possible that the very advances Iceland has made in gender equality might explain the relatively high number of women reporting violence.
      "In societies that have scored high on gender equality, you will still see very, very high figures [of violence] and it's paradoxical to see that, but the reason might have to do with women being very aware of when they're being violated in any way," she said. "Is that the case in other countries? These numbers may be closer to the truth."
      The research revealed another worrying thing -- the proportion of women who have experienced violence was very similar across all sections of Icelandic society. "Different backgrounds, different levels of education, different levels of income ... so it's not class related," Valdimarsdóttir said. "Then you start to think: 'Is this some kind of law of nature? Is this an essential part of human behavior?'"

      'The generational curse'

      One group that was not surprised by the results of the trauma study was Öfgar, a feminist collective that aims to educate the public about violence and rape culture.
      In fact, the group thinks the real numbers might be even higher.
      "I don't ha