Jacinda Ardern: New Zealand’s prime minister

Jacinda Ardern had been the leader of New Zealand’s Labour party for less than 24 hours when she was asked whether she felt a woman could have both a baby and a high-powered career.

Three years later, the question is almost laughable.

Ms Ardern went on to give birth in office, proving women can indeed do both (although, as she herself has been quick to point out, not without a supportive partner).

However, while becoming a first-time mum at 37, she also led New Zealand through three tumultuous years in which it endured its worst-ever terror attack, a deadly volcano eruption and a global pandemic that has tested leaders around the globe.

She has won plaudits on the international stage, and admiration from many at home. Things have not always been plain sailing — some accuse her of not fulfilling key election promises, like reducing child poverty, others scoff at the “woke” policies that she backs on social and racial justice.

But, Jacinda Ardern went into 2020 general election with an approval rating of 55%, which translated into a landslide victory.

“This has been a really tough time for New Zealand — we’ve had a terrorist attack, a natural disaster and a global pandemic,” she acknowledged earlier in the year.

“But in these tough times we’ve seen the best of us. We’ve been able to clear high hurdles and face huge challenges because of who we are, and because we had a plan.”

IMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS

image captionJacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s third female prime minister

Jacinda Ardern spent her childhood living in small, rural towns in her close-knit Mormon family. She was born in 1980 in the city of Hamilton, two hours south of Auckland. Her father, Ross, was a police officer, while her mother, Laurell, worked as a school cook.

It was these towns — and the poverty she saw in them — which would shape her political views, she later said. By 17, she was a Labour Party supporter.

  • Ardern scores landslide win in New Zealand election

After attending the University of Waikato, where she earned a degree in communication studies in politics and public relations, Ms Ardern began working for Helen Clark, New Zealand’s then prime minister. In 2006, she ended up working in the UK Cabinet Office, as Tony Blair was preparing to hand over power to Gordon Brown.

By 2008, she was back in New Zealand, an elected MP. During her time in parliament, she championed bills to eradicate child poverty, and supported gay rights.

IMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS

image captionArdern became the second world leader to give birth while in office. She was back at work six weeks later

The latter was important: her belief in equality for all her had spurred her on to leave the Mormon church over its stance on gay rights back in 2005.

“I could never reconcile what I saw as discrimination in a religion that was otherwise very focused on tolerance and kindness,” she told the New Zealand Herald in 2017.

Then, in March of that year, she was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party. At the time, she was adamant that she didn’t want to become prime minister.

‘The anti-Trump’

It may seem remarkable now, but Jacinda Ardern became Labour leader only seven weeks before the 2017 election. At the time, they trailed in the polls and looked to have little chance of winning. It was, she said, the “worst job in politics”.

But by the time New Zealanders cast their ballots, Labour had secured the second highest number of votes. Under the country’s proportional representation system, she was able to form a minority government with the New Zealand First Party, and the Greens.

Jacindamania quickly spread across the globe, where she was feted as the anti-Trump — a liberal beacon in a world which seemed dominated by right-wingers like the US president. She won praise for wearing a Maori cloak, known as a korowai, to meet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in April 2018. The news of her pregnancy that same year — and the fact her partner, television host Clarke Gayford, was going to become a stay-at-home dad — was also welcomed as a positive step.

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