Pacific Profile: Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
When one starts to describe Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister, third female Prime Minister of New Zealand, it is very tempting to list her resumé, which is indeed very impressive for a 38 year old (37 when she came to power), but let’s begin when she was campaigning. She stood for making tertiary education free, decriminalising abortion and lifting children out of poverty. All are admirable portfolios. That’s what Jacinda is, admirable. How many other leaders instigate a pay freeze for politicians, denying all politicians, as well as herself, a substantial increase on salaries? Meaning that she did not gain a NZ$14,131.47 (US$9,748.87) increase on her NZ$427,072 (US$29,4623.85) income.
Because we, of course, already are on a high income…one of the things we’ve been trying to bridge as a government is the fact that we see these increases at the top end of the scale, without the same increase at the end of the scale where most New Zealanders sit.
Already she’s winning my vote and I’m not even a Kiwi. “Jacinda-mania” it’s called in New Zealand where her policies are winning and her personal approval ratings are sky-high. Not only is she practical, has an eye for change in her country but interestingly, she is the second female leader who has given birth during office. The rules have been changed for her to breastfeed, change nappies and cuddle little Neve during debates in the New Zealand house of parliament. She took her 6 weeks of maternity leave, leaving the country to be governed by her deputy/foreign minister Winston Peters and on returning to work, her unmarried partner, Clarke Gayford, became Neve’s primary caregiver. On her partner and daughter travelling to New York for the UN General Assembly last September, she footed the bill and did not charge the taxpayer for relevant expenses but since then, the law has changed in NZ to allow ministers to travel with their young child if breastfeeding, to be covered as part of taxpayer expenses. Little Neve was the first baby to be included in the UN General Assembly, having her own security pass and her nappies changed in the forum!
I’m just perhaps amongst some of the first who are doing something that hasn’t been done very often, but one day it will be normal.
Politically, to call her a sharp cookie is to underestimate both her abilities and talents. She joined the Labour party in 1999 at the age of 17. She went to university, and achieved a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies (2001). Before long, she became a researcher for labour MP Phil Goff, which led to a position on Prime Minister Helen Clark’s team. In 2005, as part of a term abroad, (a commonplace activity for middle and upper class New Zealanders) she worked for two and a half years in the cabinet office of Tony Blair – UK Prime Minister. In 2007 she was elected president of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). Was she being groomed for greatness or was it luck? I like to think that talent will out.
Her New Zealand political career took off in 2008 and at 28, she was the youngest member of the House of Representatives. Her maiden speech was notable for its call for the introduction of the Maori language to be compulsory for all schools and she shamed the government for its response to climate change. Jacinda Ardern more recently joined a panel of leaders, led by the ex US Vice President Al Gore, and urged leaders to take climate change on board
There’s nothing to fear about your individual political status. Actually this is about being on the right side of history.
She’s the pop culture Prime Minister even appearing on shows such as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show (watch here on YouTube). What’s not to love about her? She has embraced the traditional Maori culture of New Zealand. She even wore a korowai, a traditional cloak, woven with feathers, on meeting Queen Elizabeth II. This showed not only her position in the country but also reflected her respect and relationship with the Maori culture. Her daughter carries a Maori name. Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford. Aroha means love and Te Aroha is the name of a mountain near to Jacinda’s family home.
Also, it means, in various forms, bright and radiant and snow, which seemed like a good combination for Matariki (Maori new year) and for solstice.
I want to see more female politicians who can one day, show the glass ceiling no longer exists. I want to see higher proportions of female to male ratios for politicians around the world. I want to see mothers able to breastfeed at work, especially without apology. I want to see politicians refuse pay rises, indigenous languages to be taught alongside the language of education in countries. I want to see a country create a template for ethical economics, cultural education, free tertiary education and health care. Am I dreaming? Perhaps, but New Zealand’s changes are real.
Jacinda Ardern still battles with old school politicians whose priorities differ and New Zealand is not a perfect country. Far from the utopian dreams of this columnist, it has a long way to go before all citizens enjoy equality in opportunity and respect. Unemployment stands at 4.6 percent but it is at an all-time low. A third of New Zealand children — 300,000 of them — live below the poverty line (Unicef’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand is children living in households who earn less than 60% of the median national income). However, 51 percent of the population hold a tertiary qualification. In New Zealand, all post-school study is considered to be tertiary education study. 10 years earlier only 17 percent of the population held tertiary qualifications — important statistics to consider for any country. Things are changing, life and opportunities are improving for New Zealand citizens and Jacinda Ardern is at the forefront of this change.