Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir has been chosen as the next prime minister of Iceland, making her the first openly gay female head of government in the world.
But it’s what she represents rather than her sexual orientation which Icelanders are proud of.
Sigurðardóttir replaces Geir H. Haarde, who was forced to resign after his government failed to protect the economy from the global market collapse. The domestic political scenario has changed dramatically in recent months, after the nationalization of its banks and street protests which swept across the country.
Sigurðardóttir has been serving the Icelandic parliament for three decades, and is the longest-sitting MP in Iceland. As Minister of Social Affairs, she supported gender equality and pushed for a stronger welfare system as well as rights for the disabled and elderly.
At the age of 36, as Minster of Social Affairs, she became famous for driving her own car to work rather than taking the official limousine.
With Iceland’s progressive social policy, providing same sex couples with marriage and adoption rights, Sigurðardóttir’s 6-year marriage to wife Jonina Leosdottir, journalist and playwright, has drawn little media attention.
“Being gay is not an issue in Iceland. There are so many openly gay prominent figures in both the public and private sector here that it doesn’t affect who we select for our highest offices. Our minds are focused on what counts, which is the current situation in the country”, says Frosti Jonsson, chairman of the gay-and-lesbian association in Iceland.
Sigurðardóttir ranks highest among Iceland’s ministers, according to polls, and draws strong support from her voting population.
TIME magazine quotes Björn Björnsson, 26, a Web editor, who said Sigurðardóttir is a “good choice” and “one of our most experienced politicians, and through this crisis she has shown nothing but integrity and concern for the public. Iceland needs someone we can trust again, and she’s earned my trust.”
With these changes coming, Iceland’s membership to the EU looks to be fast-tracked, and the new administration has announced that its first steps will be to replace the governors of its central bank.
Nicknamed ‘Saint Johanna’ by her country’s press, Sigurðardóttir was born in the capital Reykjavik in 1942, was first elected as an MP in 1978and became a minister in 1987. Her popularity endured even as faith in the government eroded in the wake of the current economic downturn.
In 1994, Sigurðardóttir formed her own party, the National Movement, which won four seats in the parliament in 1995’s general election.
The Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) was formed as a merge of the National Movement, Social Democratic Party and two other centre-left groups.
Runólfur Ágústsson, a former university rector, concludes: “The job she is about to take on is both the most difficult and the most critical that any Icelander of our generation has taken on. The future of this society depends on how she handles this position.”