After some spectacular financial fireworks and a volcano that caused havoc throughout western Europe, Iceland is back to its usual position in the international system: mostly overlooked. With all eyes on Egypt’s elections and the upcoming vote in Mexico, it is however worth noting that Icelanders are also quietly going about election season. I too had no idea until I read an article in the Sunday edition of The Guardian.
The main challenger to incumbent President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is 37-year-old Þóra Arnórsdóttir. Should she win, the two top political jobs will be held by women; Iceland’s current prime minister is Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Religion also gets a nod–yesterday the Reverend Agnes M Sigurðardóttir (no relation) was inaugurated as Iceland’s first female bishop. One columnist has already dubbed Iceland “the world’s most feminist country.”
The role of president may be more “symbolic,” acting as a cultural ambassador for the country, but that doesn’t mean Þóra’s personal life isn’t being picked over and her ability to do the job justice questioned. That is, of course, to be expected; all politicians are subject to scrutiny. What is making her campaign notable is that she gave birth to her third child just last month. While Iceland may be more progressive than other states, it would be ridiculous to expect her not to come under fire for wanting to take on such responsibility with a newborn at home.
As Þóra notes: “I’m not saying it’s easy, but the key thing is that because a woman is of child-bearing age or has children, they should not be automatically excluded from top posts. That doesn’t make sense. No one suggests men who are fathers shouldn’t hold positions of power.”
She makes a point.
And it may help that she lives in a Nordic country and not the United States. The latest edition of The Atlantic has an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, which can be broadly boiled down to: “If you’re a woman in the US and want that top policy job and a family then well…[insert sceptically raised eyebrows] good luck to you.”
Paraphrasing Slaughter, in the coming elections Þóra Arnórsdóttir is closing the ambition gap and “dreaming big enough.” Here’s hoping she wins.