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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 17:06 GMT


Profile: Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem Brundtland, the new director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), was Norway's first woman Prime Minister and is a champion of women's rights and environmental issues.

[ image: Gro Harlem Brundtland: Internationally respected]
Gro Harlem Brundtland: Internationally respected
In addition to her long and active role in Norwegian politics, the outspoken 58-year-old politician is internationally respected for her commitment to improving public health on a global scale.

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.

After three terms as Norwegian premier ending in 1995, Ms Brundtland's new appointment finds her returning to her first profession, as a doctor.

She graduated from the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States in 1965 and was a doctor in Norway's health service until 1974.

Towering presence

[ image: Ms Brundtland brings her reputation as a reformer to the WHO]
Ms Brundtland brings her reputation as a reformer to the WHO

Known to all Norwegians simply as "Gro", Ms Brundtland was a leading political figure in Norway for 15 years until 1996, when she resigned to make way for a new generation of leaders in her Labour Party.

She was such a dominant force in Norwegian politics that many cartoonists merely drew her shoes and ankles, with other tiny politicians scuttling around her feet.

Sometimes seen as a left-wing version of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's former conservative Prime Minister, Ms Bruntland is a popular leader who will bring her iron-willed style to the WHO.

Her most controversial stand on health is over abortion.

At the UN conference on population in Cairo in September 1994, she aroused the ire of Muslims and Catholics by calling for abortion to be decriminalised and accusing religious opponents of hypocrisy.

Some domestic critics blamed her government's tight fiscal policies for the long queues for treatment in Norwegian hospitals despite the country's huge wealth from oil and gas.

Political career

Gro Harlem Brundtland entered the Norwegian government in 1974 at the age of 35 as environment minister.

She became Prime Minister for the first time in 1981, taking over from Oddvar Nordli who had retired because of ill-health.

She made history by becoming the first woman Prime Minister in Scandinavia and Norway's youngest premier at the age of 41.

In 1992 Mrs Brundtland quit as Labour Party leader following the suicide of her son Joergen, one of four 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.

Becoming WHO director will fulfill a lifelong dream for Gro Brundtland. Even during her years as prime minister, observers commented that Norway was too small for a woman with such international aspirations.

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