Her first love, as well as the subject of her studies, was literature. But it was politics that won her over. The Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, speaks exclusively to Vogue Greece about her country’s successful handling of the pandemic, the need to protect the environment, as well as the special skills of female leaders.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir was elected Prime Minister in Iceland in November of 2017. She was the second woman in the history of the country to undertake its leadership. A 41-year-old woman, avid supporter of environmental movements – she is, after all, the chairperson of the Left-Green Movement in Iceland – former Minister of Education, who was voted as the most trusted politician in 2016 with a stunning difference. The people probably were up to something… Three years later, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc around the world, Iceland was one of the countries that took prevention measures in time and faced the pandemic with minimum casualties. Today, the spread of the virus is so contained that they speak of complete elimination.
This was the excuse for the Prime Minister to catch my eye and for me to start googling her name pretty often. No matter how you look at it, the fact that a young leader protected her people and fought off a pandemic in the best possible way, is a cause for respect and admiration. I was even more impressed when I discovered that a brave woman with empathy and a loud voice to be heard was behind the control, seriousness and effectiveness that Katrín Jakobsdóttir displays. From her strategic position as Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she fights for equality and for promoting the virtues of female leaders, while always being on a green mission against climate change. My favorite trivia is that she has studied Philology, has completed a MA in Literature and a dissertation on the work a famous author from her country, who specializes in crime novels. As well as that before she got into politics, she had participated in a music video of a pop & rock band. “We must all play various roles in a small society like that of Iceland”, she had said.
This woman strikes me as a person that has not followed a “prime-ministerial template” in order to get to the top, she just happened to possess virtues and qualities and – even harder – to put them to good use. The fact that amidst a pandemic and her prime-ministerial obligations she immediately responded that she would gladly answer my – just four – questions for Vogue Greece, ascertains my opinion of her. Four questions could in no way be enough, but let’s content ourselves with the fact that we welcome the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in our June issue pages, and are very proud of it.
Iceland faced the pandemic with a remarkable success. What were your weapons against this crisis?
From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in Iceland, we have listened to our best experts and science, expertise, facts and knowledge have guided all our decisions and policies. And we will continue to lead with science and knowledge. Our top priority has been public health and saving lives and we have been ready to take action to contain the spread of the virus and ensure that our medical system could handle the strain. Our testing started a month before the first case of COVID-19 was found in Iceland. Robust testing has been crucial to our fight, and we have now tested about 15% of our population. Then we have followed the guidelines of WHO, testing, tracing, using quarantine and isolation, and of course social distancing.
Greece’s economy is mainly based on its tourism and this season we are going to face an enormous financial crisis due to the pandemic effects. Respectively does Iceland, that consists an important player in tourism the last decade, face the same problem and concerns?
Just as Greece, we are heavily affected by a reduction in tourism. Tourism accounts for 14% of employment in Iceland and close to 40% of our exports. For us to recover economically, we need to revive our tourism industry but we also need to create more pillars under our economy. We are increasing our funding in research, development and innovation, we are investing in our creative industries and we are investing in agriculture and food production.
We saw that, like you, the female leaders of the world were very efficient during the pandemic. As Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, how do you judge this fact? Do you find that women leaders have some special skills in governing?
I think the key to being a good leader, in all times, and especially in times of crisis, is to set your own ego aside and do what is best for the whole, for the nation. In terms of the women question, maybe women have an easier time setting their own ego aside, listening to experts and using that knowledge to inform important decisions. In the crisis we are now facing we see our female leaders being quite level-headed and rational, as well as empathetic and caring for the wellbeing of their people which, ultimately, is the most important duty of any leader. I believe societies can empower women to become great leaders if they are granted equal opportunities and if the dialogue within the community has its roots in the idea of equality, which is very strong in Iceland.
You are the chairperson of the Left-Green Movement. What are your next steps concerning the climate protection? Is this subject still in the agenda after the corona crisis? Globally and for Iceland specifically.
We have a huge opportunity here as we recover and in some ways even restructure our economies, to do so in a sustainable way. For example by focusing on innovation and initiatives in the energy sector and beyond. Here in Iceland, we are going to fulfil the Paris Agreement targets for 2030 and we are going to be carbon neutral before 2040. Nothing has changed in that regard. For us climate change is real and we do not take it lightly. And just like with this pandemic, if we don’t respond, we pay the price.
Published in Vogue Greece’s June 2020 Issue.
Translation: Nina Zve