As the world’s youngest female prime minister, Sanna Marin is, for many, a symbol of progression and hope. The 34-year-old diplomat and mother sits at the helm of a five-party, left-wing, woman-led coalition government, and balances her home life with her ambitious plans for the future of Finland.
Marin’s face lights up when she talks about her daughter, Emma. “She doesn’t understand any of this. Once, she was looking at a magazine, and there was a picture of me, and she said, ‘Stupid magazine! Not mother.’” In the photos on her iPhone, where she is hugging Emma, make-up free, she looks like any other young mother.
Of course, she’s anything but. At 34, when some are still fumbling into adult life, Marin is at the helm of her party, the center-left Social Democrats, who won the most votes in Finland’s last general election. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Marin’s leadership has been widely praised as cool, calm, and collected. After announcing a partial lockdown – all schools, government-run public facilities, and restaurants were to be shut down – a public poll found that 66% of people agreed with the measures.
“It wasn’t something I planned,” says Marin, dressed in the black trouser-suit and high-heeled pumps she often wears in photographs. She took office in December 2019 after her predecessor resigned over his handling of a series of strikes. Formerly the minister for transport and communications, the Social Democrats agreed: Marin should take the top job.
“We have to make sure we’re building society in a way that is not only socially and economically sustainable, but also environmentally sustainable,” she says of her government’s main goals. Her most impressive project is Finland’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2035, one of the most ambitious targets for reduction in the world. Elsewhere, Marin is trying to safeguard the legendary Nordic welfare state for future generations and tackle the country’s gender pay gap.
“I want to make sure that everyone can have a good life, no matter what their backgrounds are,” she says before I go. “That’s what I’m interested in: the issues. I’ve never paid much attention to myself.”