The indelible reward of women running for president, even when they lose

Halla T—masd—ttir winning at TEDWomen 2016.
Halla T—masd—ttir winning at TEDWomen 2016.
Image: Marla Aufmuth/TED
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In 1980, Iceland elected a single mom as their president, making Vigdís Finnbogadóttir the world’s first democratically elected female president. She was a formative inspiration for then 12-year old Halla Tómasdóttir, who ran for Iceland’s presidency this year.

“I will never forget the day. President Vigdís stepped out in the balcony of her own home with her daughter at her side as she had won,” recalled Tómasdóttir, speaking at TEDWomen in San Francisco on Oct. 28. To her, Iceland’s first female president was proof that women could rise to the highest office. This powerful idea later buoyed Tomasdottir’s own conviction to run for office, despite not having any prior experience in politics.

In June, Tómasdóttir lost to historian Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson. But the independent candidate says she gained a greater symbolic win, simply by running. ”What we see, we can be. Screw fear and challenges,” said Tómasdóttir. “It matters that women run.”

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Tomasdottir, who co-founded Auður Capital during Iceland’s financial crisis in 2008, has been described as the “living emoji of sincerity,” by the New Yorker.

She won over young Icelandic voters with her Snapchat-savvy campaign, and speaks eloquently about the value of role models for aspiring women leaders and future generations of girls, including her own 12-year old daughter. The most indelible image of her campaign, she says, was a photo of a group of kids kissing her campaign poster.

“My decision to run ultimately came down to the fact that I felt I had to do my bit…to create a world where our boys and girls can be all that they can be,” said Tómasdóttir.

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Vying for leadership gave her an indelible lesson in perseverance and resilience, says Tómasdóttir. At the same time, she made a conscious effort to make sure that stress, pressure or negativity didn’t dominate the tenor of her campaign.

Citing “gleði,” the Icelandic word for joy as among her campaign principles, Tómasdóttir said, “I decided to enjoy the journey no matter if the destination was reached. ”