In 1999, Ruth Dreifuss became the first female president of the Swiss Confederation.
Ruth Dreifuss was born in 1940. She received a diploma in Business in 1958 and a degree in Economics with special focus on econometrics in 1970.
Ruth Dreifuss has had a varied professional career: she was employed as a hotel secretary in Tessin from 1958-59, was editor of the weekly journal Coopération (published by the Swiss Union of Cooperatives) in Basel from 1961 to 1964, and worked as an assistant at the Geneva University Psychosocial Centre from 1965 to 1968. After obtaining a degree in Economics, she became an assistant at the Geneva University Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences. From 1972 to 1981 she worked for the Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and became Secretary of the Swiss Trade Union Federation in 1981. In that capacity, she was responsible for sectors including social insurance, labour law, women’s issues and relations with the International Labour Organization (ILO); she has been a member of various federal commissions.
She became a member of the Swiss Socialist Party in 1964 and was a member of the Bern legislative council from 1989 to 1992.
Ruth Dreifuss was elected Federal Councillor (i.e. Member of the Swiss government) on 10 March 1993 by the Federal Assembly (Parliament), and was re-elected twice. From 1 April 1993 until her resignation on 31 December 2002, she was head of the Federal Department of the Interior, the ministry responsible for public health, social insurance, scientific research, gender equality and culture and environment until 1997. In that capacity she has represented Switzerland at several international conferences.
After her retirement from government, she chaired the commission mandated by WHO that reported on public health, innovation and intellectual property rights, and co-chaired the High Level Panel on the same subject, which was mandated by the United Nations Secretary-General. Ruth Dreifuss currently serves as a member of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.