Ruth Dreifuss studied in Geneva where she received a degree in economics with special focus on econometrics in 1971. In her varied professional career she served as hotel secretary, editor of the weekly journal Coopération, social worker, assistant at the Geneva University. She then worked nine years for the Swiss Agency for Development and Humanitarian Aid (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) and became in 1981 Secretary of the Swiss Labour Union Federation. In that capacity, she was responsible for sectors including social insurance, labour law, gender equality and relations with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Ruth Dreifuss was elected Federal Councillor (Member of the Swiss government) in 1993 by the Federal Assembly (Parliament), and was re-elected twice. From 1993 to her resignation in 2002 she was Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, the ministry responsible for public health, social insurance, scientific research, higher education, gender equality and culture, so as environment until 1997. During the year 1999, Ruth Dreifuss was President of the Swiss Confederation.
As responsible for public health and social insurance, she implemented a new policy in the fields of drug addiction and prevention of HIV/Aids. She was also in charge with the introduction of the new law on health insurance, which guaranties a universal coverage for the Swiss population. After her retirement from government, she contributed to the WHO report on intellectual property rights, innovation and public health.
Ruth Dreifuss is Doctor honoris causa of the Universities of Haifa, Jerusalem and Fribourg (Switzerland).