Education and Early Career
Ruth Dreifuss was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland. She obtained a Master of Economics of the University of Geneva before working as a journalist at Coopération from 1961 to 1964. She was an assistant at the University of Geneva from 1970 to 1972, and then became scientific expert at the Federal Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation between 1972 and 1981.
From 1981 until her election to the Swiss Federal Council in 1993, Dreifuss was the Secretary of the Swiss Trade Union. She was a social-democratic member of the City of Berne's Legislative Assembly from 1989 to 1992.
In 1999, she was the first woman to be elected President of the Confederation, a one-year rotating position. She was in charge of the Federal Department of Home Affairs until her resignation on 31 December 2002.
During her time at the Federal Council She won several referendums, including a revision of the Health Insurance Bill, the 10th revision of the social security system, a drug policy based on prevention, therapy, help and rehabilitation, and a new law regarding the film industry and its development. She worked on a Maternity Insurance law but since the majority of the Federal Council rejected the proposal, she had to ask the people to reject her own text, as she had to respect collegiality.
Reaction to her status as first female President of Swizerland
After her election in 1999, Dreifuss declared that the election of a woman as President was an important symbol of the profess achieved in Gender equality in Switzerland. "The presidency should not give the impression that this objetive has been achieved, and there is still a lot to be done in this domain." When asked whether she was pleased to be the first female Swiss President, she answered that "I woudl have just as happy if any of my other sisters had this position."
Internationally, the election of a female President excited considerable attention - with 60 articles written upon her election, unprecedented for the media coverage of a Swiss presidency.
President Dreifuss is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.