By: Kate Cyr I’m going to take an educated guess and say that few of you followed Iceland’s election last week. I wouldn’t have either, given that the last time I even thought about Iceland was when that unpronounceable volcano erupted. Until I heard about Thora Arnorsdottir, that is. Arnorsdottir was the closest challenger to incumbent president Olafur Grimsson and is important for a couple reasons, despite the fact that Mr. Grimsson won a fifth term with just under a twenty percent lead in the election.[i]
One, Ms. Arnorsdottir was a 37-year-old mother of two and seven months pregnant when she entered the race as a former journalist pledging to run a clean campaign. Though she was a famous television personality, she had virtually zero hands-on political experience. She and her partner were unmarried.[ii] She seemed like a very unlikely candidate, at least to me, an American.
Yet she barely turned heads for her unconventionality in Iceland. Women leaders are common in Iceland. In fact, the first democratically elected female head of state was elected in Iceland in 1980.[iii] Oh, and the president is not only a woman, but also a lesbian. Not to mention Icelanders have a female speaker of parliament, their first woman bishop ever[iv], and countless female government ministers. Seeing the trend yet?
So yes, Ms. Arnorsdottir is commendable—impressive, even--for running under the circumstances she did and being able to net over thirty percent of the vote. But the second, and more important, reason Ms. Arnorsdottir is remarkable is because she would have made Iceland the first country to have a majority of female heads of government.
The overall impressiveness of Ms. Arnorsdottir’s personal story and the fact that she could have made Iceland the first country ruled by a majority of females makes her, in my eyes, one of the more important people in politics this year. Sure, she doesn’t have the capability to completely change the global geopolitical landscape, like Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi or whoever wins the White House in November. But she does give women a different view of the world.
Think about it. In Iceland it’s so commonplace for women to be in top positions, especially elected positions, that Mr. Grimsson said, "It might sound big news in other countries but so far, we've achieved a state in Iceland where it's not particularly remarkable that a woman holds high office." iii That’s right: not particularly remarkable.
In how many countries is that true? Very, very few. As a rather obnoxious coworker said to me about the US, “We have a female Secretary of State. There are a lot of important women out there. Men have been doing a great job for centuries; it’s not our fault women are behind. There is no such thing as a glass ceiling.”
I think there’s something to be taken from this statement. The number of countries electing more women leaders is a trend we can’t ignore, though the United States is clearly not ready. Too many people are of the opinion that lower-ranking women leaders are suitable.
Yet the tide has been turning worldwide over the last fifty or so years. Angela Merkel is arguably one of the most powerful people in the world right now. Indira Gandhi is in large part responsible for the course India is still following to this day. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is in her second term as president of Liberia.
I think we could all take a page out of Iceland’s book. A state dominated by women shouldn’t be remarkable; it should be just one of those ordinary, everyday occurrences. Iceland is not the only country that finds it normal to be ruled by a woman or women. So, Iceland, I applaud you. Keep up the good work. Maybe one day you can inspire even the most steadfastly male-dominated nations in the world. Even—dare I say it—the United States.
[i] Andersen, Anna. "Iceland President Re-elected for Record 5th Term." MercuryNews.com. Mercury News, 1 July 2012. Web. 03 July 2012. http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_20984547/iceland-president-re-elected-record-5th-term.
[ii] Valdimarsson, Omar R. "Grimsson Secures Fifth Consecutive Term as Iceland President." Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg News, 1 July 2012. Web. 3 July 2012. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-01/grimsson-secures-fifth-consecutive-term-as-iceland-president.
[iv] R, Z. "First Female Bishop of Iceland Ordained." Iceland Review Online. Iceland Review, 25 June 2012. Web. 1 July 2012. http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=29314&ew_0_a_id=391193.