Understanding Ecological Footprint and Parenthood
The world is said to be getting hotter and hotter. Carbon emissions pollute our air and destroy the ozone layer. That’s basically the greenhouse effect in a nutshell. We would like to think that studies and statistics are just blowing news about global warming out of proportion to get everybody working towards a less toxic way of life. Most of us would rather not hear of it, thinking that we cannot do anything anyway.
Unlike our homes which we could easily run and manage, we think of global concerns as totally out of our league. Denial of our own role in the grand scheme of things is the most convenient way to exclude ourselves from taking part in saving the environment.
Gro Harlem Brundtland thinks otherwise. Like many of us, she has her own family to look after. She has a husband who needs her help in bringing up their four children. Her children, on the other hand, need a hands–on mother to care for them. Above anything else, it’s Gro’s home life she wanted to manage well.
Her duty as a mother and a wife though did not keep her from joining crusades that changed the world and organizations hoping to save this planet. How she does all of that without driving herself crazy, we have no idea. One thing is certain: Gro gives her all in everything she does.
The Norwegian people’s trust in her governance did not waiver until she opted to resign as their Prime Minister. Ten years of her life was spent leading her country towards a better and more open–minded way of life. Her “iron will” is legendary and she would shame any sexist male politician with her wit and firmness. Gro’s leadership was like no other in that she enforced gender equality and got women more involved in the affairs of their nation. That was not easy to do, but Gro knew they had to start somewhere and she was quite successful in setting an example for other leaders to follow.
Done in her work at Norway, she thought she could do more for the rest of the world. She was appointed Director–General of the World Health Organization. This time, Gro earned not just the respect of her people but also the esteem of leaders all around the globe. Seeing Gro work is like seeing a well–oiled machine operate. It’s hard to imagine her at home being a mother to her children and a wife to her husband.
Gro Harlem’s Early Political Biography
But where does Gro get her vitality? What flames this woman’s passion to always involve herself in issues that are deemed too tough for women?
It was Gro’s father who ignited her activism. Gro is the daughter of a doctor who specialized in rehabilitation medicine. She was born on 20 April 1939 in Oslo, Norway. Her father’s medical practice became most sought–after towards the end of World War II when soldiers traumatized and injured were being sent back home to their countries to be treated.
Gro’s father was also a very passionate man in his own right. He always challenged his daughter to talk to him about things of profound and philosophical leanings. As she recalled, their home was always filled with arguments over political and philosophical beliefs. When Gro turned seven, her father decided to let her join the Norwegian Labour Movement’s children sector.
It was not just any ordinary children’s club where kids get taught how to develop skills. The Norwegian Labour Movement exposed children at a very young age how to think like responsible citizens. It was her involvement in the Norwegian Labour Movement that eventually shaped her political perspective.
Another major influence in Gro’s involvement in internationally controversial and pressing issues was her family’s migration to the United States of America. Gro was only ten at the time her father was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship. Life in the US was far from what she was used to in Norway. Experiencing the life of an immigrant, Gro was inducted into internationalism.
Her United Nations experience also go back a long way when, as a young girl, her father brought all of them to Egypt when he accepted a job offer from the renowned organization.
When the family went back to Oslo, Gro’s father became more active in the Labour Party. In fact, the members elected him to be Defense Minister of the Norwegian cabinet. Due to her father’s political affiliations, their household became Gro’s political training ground. Soon, it became evident that Gro was turning out to be a very brilliant child whose beliefs did not easily get swayed. Father and daughter always engaged in debate banters and politics became an interesting topic for Gro.
“Curious” was the most apt word to describe Gro as a child; she was immersed in politics from her youth. She never ran out of questions to ask her father about his political affairs. Her father indulged her daughter and willingly obliged to answer her questions as much as he could. He loved how his daughter’s analytical thinking get piqued by topics kids of her age would find boring and irrelevant.
Her parents just let Gro be. Needless to say, Gro was a product of wise parenting. She was not told what she had to believe and was left to decide what she wanted to do with her life. One good example of how Gro’s parents trained her to be her own person was when they never admonished her for not behaving like ordinary girls did.
Loving their daughter unconditionally, it was enough for Gro’s parents to see her healthy and wise; her gender preference was not so much of an issue. Because of Gro’s boyish behavior, her parents really thought she was a tomboy. Of course, they soon found out the truth when Gro married in her early 20s.
Gender was not an issue in their home. Her parents raised Gro without letting her feel insecure about being a woman. From an early age, her parents had seen a quiet strength in Gro. It was the kind of character they wanted her to develop. Her terrific upbringing resulted in Gro’s being one of the toughest and most respected women in the history of politics and global affairs.
But joining politics did not cross Gro’s mind as she wanted to follow her father’s footsteps in the field of medicine. Even though Gro was deeply involved and knowledgeable concerning politics, she had no other dream but to please her father in the best way she then knew how—by pursuing a career same as his.
Marrying Arne Olav Brundtland
Gro married Arne Olav Brundtland in 1960, three years before she became a full–fledged doctor. It was Arne’s personality that Gro liked best apart from his brilliance and interest in politics. The Brundtland couple eventually became proud parents to four children.
The two were so compatible that while Gro was busy running the nation, Arne wrote a book chronicling his wife’s political activities. His book “Married to Gro” and its sequel “Still Married to Gro” were both bestsellers. Gro’s soaring popularity and political influence did not bother Arne in any way, nor did it become a bone of contention in their relationship.
Gro bore their first child, a boy, only seven months into their marriage. Motherhood became a challenge for the aspiring doctor. She needed to be creative in order to balance studies and parenting. What she did was bring her son with her to school to nurse him in between classes. Like her, Arne was also attending university and could not really give her a hand in taking care of their baby. Besides, the infant had to be breastfed and Arne could not really help Gro in that aspect.
The following year, with their baby now a toddler, Arne graduated from the university. His leaving from the university freed up his schedule and allowed him to take over his son’s babysitting. Gro was only too happy to hand the caring of their son to Arne.
It was Arne’s turn to get creative. In order to avoid being a stay–at–home–dad, he looked for a job. His day would begin by first dropping off their boy at the day care before heading off to work. After a long day in the office, he would fetch his son and together they would go home.
Arne’s Quotes on His Marriage to Gro
Arne’s political affiliations did not create the littlest of conflict in the family. Gro, a Labour Movement member since seven years old, married Arne, a member of Norway’s Conservative Party. Married as they were, neither of them imposed which political party to support. Coming from two opposing parties, Arne had this to say about their relationship, “My field is analysis of international relations. Her field is doing international relations. That makes for very good morning seminars.”
Since their marriage in 1960, the Brundtland couple is still going strong after 53 years of differing political ideologies. Her home life is another area where Gro triumphed. More than 50 years of being a wife to someone who did not share her political convictions must be very challenging for Gro—and she’s quite a sucker for challenges.
Gro Works for the Ministry of Health
Two years after graduating from medical school in Oslo, she completed her Master of Public Health degree in 1965 from Harvard University. She returned to Oslo soon after completing her master’s and began working in the Ministry of Health. Children became the focus of her medical profession. For three years, she worked as a medical officer in the Norwegian Directorate of Public Health and specialized in breastfeeding and cancer.
Gro’s political career was foreshadowed by her acceptance to the Board of Health in Oslo in 1968, occupying the assistant medical director seat. Before long, everybody noticed her vigilance on issues concerning women and their rights. So persistent was Gro’s call for gender equality that Norway Prime Minister Trygve Bratteli could not help but hear her out and was subsequently converted to her ideals.
As Trygve got to know Gro better, he was convinced that she would make an excellent Minister of Environment. Here’s the catch, it was a position no woman had ever held and Gro was feeling inadequate since she was a public health officer and not an environmentalist. After carefully thinking things over, she decided to accept the Prime Minister’s offer, knowing that public health will only get better if the environment does.
Her position in the ministry educated her about the sorry state of the planet. She cannot believe that what she thought to be a light issue is not only real, but also an urgent matter. Trygve Bratteli was right about putting Gro in charge because she is just the type who got people to follow rules.
Joining the Labor Party as an Adult
Having been trained well in activism by her father, Gro easily attracted the media’s attention. An accident in the North Sea back in 1977 propelled Gro’s political ascent. She reportedly abandoned a social gathering when an oil drilling platform exploded threatening to spill deadly chemicals all over the North Sea. Hurrying to the scene, Gro administered the repairs needed to restore the plant and prevent oil–spillage. Gro had no plans of brushing the cause of the accident aside. She gathered her people and talked to them about new policies to mitigate sea catastrophes of such kind.
The media picked up the story and Gros’ leadership and strong will were put under the spotlight. It led to her subsequent appointment as party leader of the organization she joined back when she was only seven—the Labour Movement. The appointment came in 1981, four years after she joined the party not as a child but as an adult.
Her new position would entail more responsibilities that might take most of her time away from the family she was raising. Arne ran to her rescue and assumed Gro’s role in their growing household. However, Arne adamantly insisted that if he had to take on full parenting, Gro better leave everything up to him.
Yes, Gro was blessed with such a charming and well–rounded husband. The grateful Gro did not have to be coerced to give Arne total parenting rights—after all, she was confident that she married the most responsible man in the world.
The First Woman Prime Minister of Norway
The year 1981 made history in Norway politics. Gro, a 42–year–old woman, became the first female Prime Minister and the youngest one to be elected in that position. Even though it was short–lived—less than a year—it gave the women of Norway the boost they needed.
Two years later, Gro was approached by the United Nation’s Secretary–General to talk about an assignment they thought would be perfect for her. The United Nations had just created the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and they all agreed to put Gro in charge. Anything concerning the environment is a matter of interest to Gro, so the following year, she was completely done forming the new United Nations commission.
She meticulously chose the people who would help her drive environmental consciousness among nations. The key to achieving that was by making the commission as knowledgeable as possible. She gathered the learned of various disciplines and background.
Our Common Future Quotes Sustainability as the Answer to Environmental Problems
To maximize poor countries’ cooperation, she made sure that her committee was peppered with workers coming from developing nations. That brilliant strategy combined with Gro’s 101% diligence and commitment, gave birth to the report, “Our Common Future.” The report, also referred to as the “Brundtland Report,” clearly enumerated the grave problems that need to be addressed if we want our descendants to keep living on planet Earth in the years to come.
It generated an outcry that soon led to the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In between that, Gro served—for the second time around—as Norway’s Prime Minister. Unlike her first stint, her re–election gave her three years to serve her country again starting from 1986 up to 1989.
She only rested for a year before getting the Prime Minister seat back in 1990. Her third appointment was her longest—six years. In total, Gro served Norway as Prime Minister for a good ten years. That’s quite a feat for someone who did not, by default, eye any political position.
During Gro’s leadership, Norway saw a number of traditions broken. One is the society’s treatment of women. When before women were regarded as second class citizens and were left at home to look after their children, Gro’s rise to power gave women the courage to assert their rights.
Speaking of rights, Gro championed women–friendly regulations. Eventually, Norway became one of the first nations to recognize the contributions of women to their society. Taking after their Prime Minister, a lot of women soon joined the parliament and began a career in politics.
When Gro thought she served her country enough, she resigned as Prime Minister. She had been a politician for so long that when the World Health Organization needed her to lead the team in 1998, she very eagerly did. Again, Gro was the first female to ever hold the position.
Upon becoming WHO Director–General, Gro’s first item on her list was choosing people who would work under her. This great leader believes that success is only possible if one is not doing the job alone. Hence, she chose her own Executive Directors and saw to it that majority of them were women.
Five years as WHO Director–General made Gro even more formidable in the environmental scene. She strongly backed up sustainable development campaigns and rallied against too much dependence on fossil fuels.
Tobacco was banned in WHO during her tenure and no employee working for her smoked—it was one of the organization’s qualifying criteria for employment in her time. Also, Gro successfully launched Roll Back Malaria and the Tobacco Free Initiative during her term.
When her five–year office ended, it was clear to everyone how serious Gro is about changing the world. Her regulations were religiously observed because she herself obeyed the rules.
Long after leaving the WHO, Gro was again commissioned by UN Secretary–General Ban Ki-Moon to become one of the three UN Special Envoys for Climate Change in 2007. That’s why at 75 years old, Gro is still as sharp as ever. With the kind of vigilance she is showing in old age, it seems that she would have to become senile first before she abandons her environmental work.
Gro has seen doctors for having adverse reactions to mobile phones and other gadgets. According to her, she could tell if a working mobile phone is anywhere near her because she gets a tingling sensation, which makes her uncomfortable. Gro is said to uber sensitive to electricity that her body reacts negatively once it senses the presence of anything electric. People who work with her understand that they couldn't have their mobile phones turned on whenever they are near Gro.
Being faithful to a political ideology formed at seven years old, Gro Harlem Brundtland is truly one consistent and extraordinary woman.
Organisations and Campaigns Supported
- World Health Organization
- World Commission on Environment and Development
- Earth Summit
- Better World Fund
- International Advisory Council
- Mary Robinson Foundation
- Climate Justice
- Former Trustee
- Better World Society
- Friends of the Institute
- International Institute for Sustainable Development
- Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict
- Special Envoy on Climate Change
- Club de Madrid
- Norwegian Labour Party
- Human-Etisk Forbund
- Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
- World Commission on Environment and Development
- Agenda 21
- Commission on Macroeconomics and Health
- Panel of Eminent Persons
- Council of Women World Leaders
- The Elders
- United Nations Foundation
- United Nations Development Programme
- Roll Back Malaria
- 1963: Completed her Medical Degree from University of Oslo
- 1965: Completed her Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University
- 1965: Worked in the Ministry of Health
- 1974: Appointed as Minister of the Environment
- 1981: Became Head of Labour Party
- 1981: Became Prime Minister for 7 months
- 1977: Joined Labour Party's Parliament
- 1983: Headed the World Commission on Environment and Development
- 1986: Became Prime Minister again
- 1990: Served her third turn as Prime Minister
- 1994: Recipient of the Charlemagne Prize
- 1998: Became Director General of World Health Organization
- 2001: Inducted into the New York Academy of Science Honorary Life Members
- 2001: Recipient of the World Ecology Award given by the International Center for Tropical Ecology
- 2002: Recipient of the Four Freedoms Award given by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
- 2003: Named the Policy Leader of the Year by Scientific American
- 2004: Named 4th Most Influential European of the Last 25 Years by the Financial Times
- 2006: Became a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons
- 2007: Appointed as UN Special Envoys for Climate Change
- 2007: Became a member of The Elders
- 2008: Awarded with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture
- 2009: Recipient of the Tallberg Foundation Award
- 2013: Recipient of the Lawrence S. Huntington Environmental Prize from the Woods Hole Research Center
- Youngest person to become Norway’s Prime Minister
- The first and only woman to date to become Norway’s Prime Minister
- Won the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize
- 1992: LLD, Harvard University, USA
- 2001: Honorary Degree, Emory University, USA
- 2001: Doctor of Civil Law, Oxford University, UK
- 2007: Doctor of Science, Michigan State University
- 2011: Doctor of Humane Letters, Yale University, USA