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A conversation with the Prime Minister of Iceland and Supriya Vani

"...We want to be a country without military because we do not think military alliances are the right way to ensure a more peaceful and secure world." Prime Minister of Iceland-Katrin Jacobsoddtir

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Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdottir with Supriya Vani
Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdottir with Supriya Vani

If today Iceland is considered as the best place in the world to be a woman and if has become the first country to make it illegal to pay a man more than a woman for doing the same job, it is all owing to its present Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. I had gone to Reykjavik to interview her at her office. I had already formed visions of the scenic beauty of Iceland as is known worldwide but when I landed in Reykjavik, I was entirely impacted by the suddenness of the scenic beauty all around laying bared before my unbelieving eyes. It took me too long to recover from the instant mesmerizing impact.  She was expecting me at the very moment when I reached her office. On learning that I have arrived, she came out to receive me and shook my hand very warmly in such a manner as if we had been known to with each other for very long. This speaks volumes of her innate humility as well as her greatness as a human being.

Her office was decked with photographs of former prime ministers of Iceland and other world leaders. She had offered me a warm cup of Icelandic coffee. While seemingly enjoying every sip of steaming coffee,  she expressed her admiration for India as she equated India to a continent in itself and expressed her wonder about the rich Indian spiritual and ethical traditions of universal love and non-violence and its being the host of the world’s oldest civilization while other contemporary civilizations have perished long back yet it was still vibrating, pulsating,  thriving and resonating. In a few minutes, she made me feel immensely at ease and I started talking with her in an effortless manner.

She told me during my interview, “ I was very close to both my mother and father. Both are dead now. My father died when I was 20 and my mother died 7 years ago. I was not a very social child. I had few friends in my childhood. I really liked being alone. So, it’s really an irony that I’m a politician now because you are never alone in politics.  You are always with people and that kind  happened when I became a teenager and I started to have interest in people. As a kid I was just into reading and thinking and may be I was considered  a little weird because I just wanted to be alone.”  On my remarking that every genius is a born rebel she countered me saying, “Well, I won’t call myself a genius.” She had instant hearty laugh.

         She occupied the prime ministerial position largely owing to her being adjudged as the ‘most trusted Icelandic politician’ in 2016 in market research poll where she won 59.2 percent support whereas the then-president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson could secure only 54.5 percent support of the people.

            She is truly a peace icon. Iceland has no regular army of its own. Yet still, Jakobsdottir is against remaining in NATO. She fears no external aggression from any hostile country.  For her,  threat to the security of her country is from food security and health security. She informed me, “ My party is the only Icelandic political party which  wants to not be in NATO. We want to be a country without military because we do not think military alliances are the right way to ensure a more peaceful and secure world.’ Here she highlights what difference does it make to the world politics when a woman is heading a government.

                Iceland, under the stewardship of Katrin, has made it known to the world community, as to how it respects equal rights for women and men. This is the first country in the world which has introduced pay-equity law.

She opines that in order to achieve the goal of carbon neutral Iceland by 2040, the Icelandic  people have to think out of the box. She is quite assertive that the securing a carbon neutral Iceland is doable. Iceland is peculiarly situated and has vast wealth of renewable resources which Jakobsdottir believes gives a head start to her country but the goal would be achieved only when Icelandic sheep farmers invest in topsoil and wetland reclamation, planting trees and switching to renewable fuels. She expresses her hope in sheep farmers who she believes are ready to cooperate with the government to make sheep farming carbon-neutral in Iceland in a couple of years. She holds that whether a goal is achievable or not, it entirely depends upon the thinking of the people. If the people think that the goal is doable, it can be achieved. While other European countries have  resolved to be carbon neutral by 2045, she informed me that she wants to achieve this target five years earlier by 2040. She informed me that in the first phase she plans to make all the ministries carbon neutral which are going through the learning process and going through the steps of non- plastic production and trying to really switch to renewable energy but the bigger plan for the community is in making Iceland carbon neutral and improving agriculture because this is the thing which really demands the whole society to participate. High on her agenda of governance are issues like, restoring welfare benefits, make Iceland carbon neutral by 2040, adopting new constitution which would be partly crowdsourced, gender equality and giving shelter to more refugees.

She takes forward her country’s forward looking approach to gender equality. She is proud of her country that it has a legislation on parental leave where both father and mother take three months leave on the birth of a child which made men also responsible for the upbringing of children and it had resulted in dramatic change in the behavior of fathers as regards their role in bringing upon their children. It is no wonder that New York Times declared Iceland as ‘the most gender-egalitarian country in the world.’ She is driven by the values which Iceland has been nurturing in all its history.

            When I asked her how does she feel in politics. Can women take to politics as comfortably as men do ? She was quite candid in her confession. She informed me, “ Well, politics is difficult. You know it’s a difficult job.” I am entirely satisfied to share with the world at large my belief that when more and more women would be elected as heads of governments, it shall palpably impact the lives of people across the globe for the better and it is highly satisfying to note that ‘better’ is a relative term and not absolute.

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