Gro Harlem Brundtland
Early Life and Education
Born in Oslo, Brundtland graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Oslo in 1963, and completed a Master of Public Health at Harvard University in 1965. At the age of seven, she was enrolled as a member of the Norwegian Labour Movement in its children's section and has been a member ever since, leading the Labour Party to election victory three times.
Upon graduation, she worked for the Ministry of Health where she worked on children's health issues including breastfeeding, cancer prevention and other diseases. She also worked in the children's department of the National Hospital and Oslo City Hospital and became Director of Health Services for Oslo's schoolchildren.
In 1974, Brundtland was appointed Minister of the Environment. Her reputation as an environmentalist grew in national and international circles. Her reputation and popularity led to her election as Prime Minister in 1981. Not only the first woman Prime Minister, Brundtland was also the youngest, aged only 41. She was Prime Minister for two consecutive periods, from 1986-1989 and 1990-1996. Her cabinet was internationally renowned for its large percentage of female ministers. Eight of the eighteen total were female. In 1992 Mrs Brundtland quit as Labour Party leader following the suicide of one of her children. She suffered the biggest defeat of her political career in 1994, when Norwegians voted "No" in a referendum on joining the European Union after a campaign in which she had forcefully argued the case for membership.
She has enjoyed international recognition since 1983 as chairwoman of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. In 1987, the so-called "Brundtland report", which led to the first Earth Summit in 1992, was produced under her guidance.
Gro Harlem Brundtland is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
World Health Organization (WHO)
Dr Brundtland was nominated as Director-General of the World Health Organization by the Executive Board of WHO in January 1998. In this capacity, Brundtland adopted a far-reaching approach to public health, establishing a Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, chaired by Jeffrey Sachs, and addressing violence as a major public health issue. Brundtland spearheaded the movement, now worldwide, to achieve the abolition of cigarette smoking by education and persuasion.
Policies on Women
Brundtland has promoted gender equality in all of her public positions. As Prime Minister, Brundland enforced the 40% quota of women as candidates for public office. She sparked controversy over the issue of abortion. In Norway, she pushed through legislation legalizing abortion, arguing that children who are born in poverty or who are unwanted by their parents face serious conditions of negligence and deprivation. In 1994, at the UN conference on population in Cairo, she provoked the anger of Muslims and Catholics by calling for abortion to be decriminalised and accusing religious opponents of hypocrisy. At the conference she argued:
« Women will not become more empowered merely because we want them to be, but through legislative changes, increased information, and redirection of resources. »