UNU-GEST fellows visit the President of Iceland

It was a blustery afternoon yesterday, when the fellows of the 2019 cohort of the UNU Gender Equality Studies and Training programme had the honour of being received by the President of Iceland, Mr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, at the presidential residence Bessastaðir.

After braving the wind for a photo in front of the residence, fellows were invited in to sign the Bessastaðir guestbook and be greeted by the president, who opened the event with a welcoming speech. He discussed what potential Iceland, small nation that it is, has in furthering gender equality everywhere through sharing its experience so that others may learn from and use, with modifications when needed, the Icelandic example to move toward more gender equal societies the world over.

After the president‘s welcome, three of this year‘s fellows spoke. Gabriel Oladipupo Ogbeyemi, from Nigeria,  bid the president góðan daginn – good day – in Icelandic, and went on to speak of the purpose of the GEST programme and the amazing diversity of expertise present in the 2019 cohort. This cohort represents thirteen countries and three continents and includes practitioners and graduate students in a wide variety of fields who are working in government, academia and civil society organisations, and all of whom are, within the programme, working on projects in line with the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal: Gender Equality. Next to speak was Suhaila Mubariz Qaderi, from Afghanistan. Suhaila related her main reasons for joining the GEST programme; inequality in many areas of society despite full equality by law, and in particular the paucity of women in positions of power. She noted that when women hold positions of leadership and participate equally with men in policy and decision making, equality in many other aspects of life will follow. Finally Rita Berisha, from Kosovo, gave an example of the final assignments fellows are currently working on by describing her research into the roles and largely hidden history of women in ethnic Albanians‘ protest and human rights movements during the latter half of the 20th century, giving those present a glimpse into the history of Kosovo at the same time.


Afterwards, as the president and fellows partook of some coffee and randalín cake following a flurry of photographic activity, the gracious host further enlightened his guests about the interesting history of Bessastadir through the centuries. He mentioned some of the women of Bessastadir, although many are not well known, and also shed light on prevailing attitudes in society around the time that Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected president of Iceland in 1980, highlighting how far we have come since then, owing, in large part, to her influence.