When I was just under three months old a great moment in history occurred—obviously completely unknown to me at the time.
On June 29, 1980, the first woman—and a great woman she remains to this day—in the world to be democratically-elected as head of state was announced as the winner of the 1980 Icelandic presidential election.
Last night this landmark event was celebrated in the center of Reykjavík.
On a beautiful and bright summer evening, with a light drizzle every now and then, a large crowd assembles to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s election.
Attendees are light-hearted and tourists in the crowd curiously investigating what the festivities are all about.
Vigdís, the woman whose existence is being celebrated, sits before the stage with her daughter and grandchildren by her side.
Musicians, both well-known and lesser-known, gather to sing their ode to her greatness. She is the symbol who unites conservatives, liberals and radicals alike.
To my generation, she is the symbol of victory in the long and enduring road to female leadership. The woman who could and the woman who broke the barrier.
To me, being a president became possible, and many women and girls around the globe must have felt the same way.
The program is art-oriented, featuring poetry and music along with speeches, all in the spirit of Vigdís, a former theater director passionate about the arts and languages.
A young composer and musician, Már Gunnarsson, performs his ode to Vigdís. He plays the piano, backed by a band and female vocalist. It’s a lively jazzy tune that captures her journey.
The young composer’s comprehension of Vígdís’ nature is extraordinary considering that he’s only 15. After the performance, he stands up and walks to the front of the stage to bow to this great woman.
For this event, family and friends were asked for personal accounts of Vigdís that reflect her character. These include giving a ride to awkward teen punks hitchhiking, who couldn’t believe they had been picked up by the president herself.
In her speech at the end of the program, Vigdís humbly and graciously accepts the praise. She congratulates the nation for having voting her as president at a time when few women were in positions of authority.
She expresses her gratitude for having being born in Iceland, a country of many valuable natural resources, including pure water, which people often take for granted. She reminds us that the responsibility to preserve and protect the country’s treasures is not a burden but a joy.
She is simply grateful.
She also thanks the University of Iceland for having established the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages.
The institute is home to 90 languages and when its construction has been completed, it will be a place travelers who take an interest in languages can visit and inquire whether their languages is among those being preserved there.
As Vigdís bids farewell to the crowd that came to celebrate the landmark event 35 years ago—and the woman who so deeply influenced their lives—the evening sun in orange haze shines brightly upon Iceland’s most graceful of women.
She is the heroine of a real-life fairytale in which a woman was elected president. It was her deep intellect, grace and goodness, combined with a presence so elegant and charming that few could resist that got her elected in an era when most high-ranking positions were held by men.
In her speech, Vigdís reminds us that the struggle for gender equality is far from finished and that it is up to the young people to lead the journey that remains to be traveled.
Feeling young and invigorated in my feminist beliefs, I take her words to heart, as should all of us who have a passion for change, to make an unequal world equal.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)gmail.com