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Ruth Dreifuss
Ruth Dreifuss

Ruth Dreifuss (born 9 January 1940 in St. Gallen) is a Swiss politician affiliated with the Social Democratic Party. She was a member of the Swiss Federal Council from 1993 to 2002, representing the Canton of Geneva.

She was elected to the Swiss Federal Council on 10 March 1993 as the 100th member elected since the foundation of the federal state, the second woman to be elected to the council, and the only councillor with a Jewish background so far. She was the President of the Confederation in 1999, the first woman to hold this position.


Dreifuss belongs to one of the oldest Jewish families in Switzerland. Her father was a merchant and both Ruth and her older brother went to school. After business education Ruth worked as a secretary and a social worker and was a journalist at Cooperation from 1961 to 1964. She joined the Socialist Party (SP) in 1964. In 1970 she obtained a Master of Economics of the University of Geneva and was an assistant at the university from 1970 to 1972. Then she became scientific expert at the Federal Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation between 1972 and 1981. She was then elected Secretary of the Swiss Trade Union, where she dealt with questions related to social insurance, labor law and women's issues, until her election to the Swiss Federal Council in 1993.[1]

Dreifuss was a social-democratic member of the City of Bern's Legislative Assembly from 1989 to 1992. She missed out the election to the National Council of Switzerland in 1991.

She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former female leaders whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

Election to the Federal Council

After the resignation of René Felber from the Swiss Federal Council, a member of the Social Democratic Party was supposed to be elected, according to the unofficial "magic formula" used to determine the representation of the Swiss parties at the Federal Council. While Christiane Brunner was the Social Democratic Party's official candidate for the election on 3 March 1993, the right-wing parties decided to back another member of the Social Democratic Party, Francis Matthey, a member of the national parliament and a Minister of the Canton of Neuchâtel at that time who declined election, as his party did not support it.

A new election was organized on 10 March 1993, and the Social Democratic Party presented both Ruth Dreifuss and Christiane Brunner as the two official candidates. It was the first time that two women were on the official "ticket" for election, and Ruth Dreifuss was elected on the 3rd round with 144 votes.

Political actions undertaken

Ruth Dreifuss held the Federal Department of Home Affairs until her resignation on 31 December 2002. She was the first woman ever to be elected President of the Confederation from 1 January to 31 December 1999.

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. The 4-pillar policy was also aimed at reducing the spread of the AIDS epidemic, especially with a new policy regarding the supply of clean syringes.

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.

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