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Gro Harlem Brundtland

first woman Prime Minister of Norway

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem was born in Oslo, Norway, on April 20, 1939. Her father was a doctor who specialized rehabilitation medicine, and from an early age Gro desired to follow her father into medicine. He was also an active member of the Norwegian Labour Movement, and at the age of seven Gro was enrolled as a member in its children's section. She married Arne Olav Brundtland on December 9, 1960, earned her M.D. from Oslo University in 1963, and a Masters in Public Health from Harvard University in 1965.

Returning to Oslo in 1965, Brundtland spent the next ten years working as a physician and scientist in the public health system, as Assistant Medical Director of the Oslo Board of Health, Director of Health Services for Oslo's schoolchildren, and in the children's department of the National Hospital and the Oslo City Hospital. She left her medical career in 1974 to accept the post of Minister of the Environment, a position she held until 1979.

Brundtland began her political career in 1975, when she was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party. She was elected to the Norwegian Storting in 1977, and became the leader of the Labour Party in 1981. She became Prime Minister of Norway on February 4, 1981, following the resignation of Odvar Nordli, making her the youngest person and first woman to ever hold that office. Her tenure was short, however, as the Labour Party lost the general elections nine months later.

In 1983, United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar invited Brundtland to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report Our Common Future in April 1987, and its recommendations led to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Brundtland again became Prime Minister following the Labour Party's election successes in 1986, and this time served until 1989. The Labour Party regained control in 1990, and her third term as Prime Minister lasted until her resignation for personal reasons in 1996. Throughout her three terms as Prime Minister, Brundtland never had fewer than 8 women in her 18-member cabinet and, overall, is credited with securing better educational and economic opportunities for women in Norway.

Brundtland was nominated as Director-General of the World Health Organization by the Executive Board of WHO in January 1998. The World Health Assembly elected her for the position on May 13, 1998, and she took office on July 21st. term ended 2003. During her tenure, Brundtland’s rapid response to the global threat of the SARS virus was largely credited with helping prevent the widespread growth of the disease. She also succeeded in garnering support for the first negotiated agreement on a major public health issue, The Tobacco Convention. Her term ended in 2003, the same year in which she was recognized as Scientific American’s “Policy Leader of the Year.”

In 2007, Brundtland was named as one of three United Nations Special Envoys for Climate Change. She is currently a member of The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel and led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as of the board of the United Nations Foundation.

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Encyclopædia Britannica
United Nations

Desmond Tutu

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Northern Europe >> Norway >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on April 19, 2018.