After almost 35 years in politics and four years as government leader, Prime Minister of Iceland Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir—who, according to Forbes was among the world’s 100th most powerful women in 2009 and 2010—is retiring. But who is this woman, the country’s first female premier and the world’s first openly gay head of state?
Published in the 2013 April-May issue of Iceland Review – IR 02.13. By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
Onwards into battle and towards victory!” Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir commands in her final speech as leader of Samfylkingin (the Social Democratic Alliance; SDA) on February 1, 2013—exactly four years after taking over as Prime Minister. Jóhanna accepts her party members’ roaring applause with a self-assured smile and arms raised before leaving the stage.
Democrat to the Core
“Jóhanna is a visionary, taking the cause of little people … those who are ill, unemployed, with disabilities. She is a socialist, a democrat. It’s in her blood,” says RÚV news anchor and parliamentary correspondent Jóhanna Vigdís Hjaltadóttir.
Jóhanna’s father, Sigurður Egill Ingimundarson (1913-1978) was an MP and director of the Social Insurance Administration and his mother, Jóhanna Guðlaug Egilsdóttir (1881-1982), an MP and famous union leader, who, at 100, was still politically active.
Already while working as a flight attendant in her twenties, it was clear what path Jóhanna would take. “She looked up to her grandmother very much,” comments former colleague at Loftleiðir (Icelandic Airways) Steinunn Sigurðardóttir. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that she moved into politics.”
Jóhanna entered Alþingi, the parliament, as MP for Alþýðuflokkurinn (Social Democratic Party; SDP), in 1978. “My grandmother fought all her life for more equal rights between men and women and I took over from her,” says Jóhanna. She served as Minister for Social Affairs from 1987 and until leaving the coalition of Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party; IP) and the SDP—the government of Davíð Oddsson and Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson—one year before the term ended in 1994.
“These were difficult times for Jóhanna. She was vice-chair of the SDP when Jón Baldvin and Jón Sigurðsson [former MP and minister] decided to adopt a liberal policy, promote privatization. She disapproved and found, as vice-chair, that she was being sidelined,” recounts Friðrik Sophusson, Minister of Finance for the IP at the time.
You can read the remainder of the article in the 2013 April-May issue of Iceland Review – IR 02.13.
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