Greenland legislature welcomes youthful politicians

Multi-party system supports candidates as young as 24


When Doris Jakobsen and Ellen Christoffersen, who are both members of Greenland’s parliament, travelled to Iceland not long ago, education officials met the two with amazement: the Icelanders couldn’t believe these young women were actually elected MPs.
Jakobsen, 26, a member of the Siumut Party, and Christoffersen, 33, from the Atassut Party, are among seven MPs in Greenland who are under 35. The youngest is only 24.

So, why doesn’t Nunavut have more youth and more young women in its legislature?

The reason, say the two MPs, is the way Greenland’s political system is structured and how Greenlanders are changing their attitudes towards youth and women.

Greenland’s multi-party system offers youth with an interest in politics the support and structure to become involved — unlike Nunavut’s consensus government.

Greenland also elects its MPs at-large. Because there are no ridings, a youth has a better chance to rally general support from the population and win.

At the same time, say the young MPs, Greenlanders are finally emerging from the colonial mentality that separated women from men and are more ready to accept a “generational shift” to new and younger leaders — even when they’re women.

Both Jakobsen and Christoffersen were known to Greenlanders before they ran for office in 2002.

Jakobsen was head of the youth council and a well-known Tae Kwan Do champion.

At 26, Christoffersen had successfully run for Nuuk’s municipal council, before being elected as one of Greenland’s two members of the Danish parliament the following year.

Both women had been active in their parties and say this support was essential.

Now, the two play important legislative roles. Christoffersen is a member of the defense committee and foreign policy council, while Jakobsen is deputy speaker and involved in the education and culture committee.

The oldest MP in Greenland’s legislature is 72, but the two women say younger members are now equal players in the house.

“I have respect from them because they’ve given me responsibility, but we had to use a lot of initiative in the beginning,” Jakobsen said.

And now the two MPs are unofficial role models for young Greenlanders who often ask them for autographs.

Yet Christoffersen says political life is not all roses at the start. Stories published after her election to the Danish parliament referred to her as the “young and pretty” MP. Now the focus is more on what she does.

“I had to fight to run. You have to want politics and be aware that there can be lots of hits. I was nervous. I didn’t have the knowledge, but I still wanted to make a difference.”

While in office, Christoffersen remarried and had a second child, who is now almost two. In addition to her responsibilities as an MP, she’s also Greenland Tourism’s new communications officer.

Jakobsen, who is single and has no children, is continuing her university studies in mathematics and education in Nuuk.

The two were in Akureyri, a city of 15,000 in northern Iceland, to participate in a conference on gender, environment and social development in the West Nordic and Arctic areas, hosted by the Iceland’s Centre for Gender Equality.

There, they heard from an MP from the Faroe Islands, Annita á Frithriksmoerk, 35, who was only 29 when she was elected to office. She faces an uphill battle, as one of three women in a 32-seat legislature led by an all-male and older cabinet.

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