If you’re looking for a piece of good news to come out of 2020, look no further than New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern.
The country’s progressive prime minister – who was first elected in 2017 – claimed a landslide victory in yesterday’s general election and will now be able to form New Zealand’s first single-party government in decades.
Besides the fact that she has managed to successfully bring the coronavirus pandemic under control in the country (New Zealand has recorded a total of 25 deaths among its population of nearly five million people), Ardern has given us plenty of reasons to love her during her time in government – and her re-election is a sign that there’s still room for progressive, inclusive politics in a world which often feels dominated by divisive, regressive leadership.
Although she hasn’t always got things right – she has faced criticism for her failure to deliver on some of the key promises she made when she was elected in 2017, especially when it comes to child poverty – Ardern’s compassionate, forward-thinking approach is something which should be celebrated.
From her respectful handling of the Christchurch shooting to her refreshing approach to wellbeing and mental health, here’s a reminder of some of Ardern’s most iconic moments throughout her political career.
1. When she defended a woman’s right to keep their baby plans private
Ardern can always be relied upon to fight the good fight when it comes to sexist assumptions in the workplace.
When she was first elected Labour leader back in 2017, Ardern said she was happy to answer questions about her plans to start a family – but defended the right of New Zealand women to avoid questions about motherhood from their employers after a TV host suggested employers “need to know” whether women intend to take maternity leave.
“It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” Ardern responded. “It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.”
2. When she brushed off creepy comments about her pregnancy
When faced with a particularly creepy question about whether her pregnancy had been conceived during her election campaign, Ardern made sure her response said it all.
“The election was done,” she replied firmly after a perfectly timed eye roll. “It was over. Not that we need to get into those details.”
3. When she wore a Māori cloak to Buckingham Palace
Throughout her time as prime minister, Ardern has repeatedly said she endeavours to represent all New Zealanders – and her decision to wear a Māori cloak to a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in 2018 was a particularly poignant example.
As Janina Matthewson wrote for Stylist at the time: “The cloak is a way of demonstrating that Ardern represents a multi-ethnic country, that she is working for all New Zealanders.
“The images of Ardern, resplendent in her kahu huruhuru alongside her partner Clarke Gayford, are a source of immense joy and pride – they are iconic.”
4. When she paid tribute to Māori culture with her choice of baby name
After becoming the second elected leader to give birth in office after the birth of her daughter on 21 June 2018, Ardern chose to pay tribute to Māori culture by choosing a baby name which incorporates their official language.
Her baby’s name, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, includes a number of different elements. Neve is the anglicised version of the Irish name Niamh, and Te Aroha means “love” in te reo Māori, one of New Zealand’s official languages.
Ardern said the name was a nod to the many Māori iwi (tribes) that had offered names as a gift while she was pregnant.
5. When she brought her baby to the UN
Throughout her time as prime minister Ardern has worked hard to represent and improve conditions for working mothers – and her decision to bring her three-month-old baby to a United Nations meeting was no different.
“If we want to make workplaces more open, we need to acknowledge logistical challenges,” she told CNN at the time. “By being more open it might create a path for other women.”
6. When she refused to say the name of the shooter involved in the Christchurch terrorist attack
On 15 March 2019, New Zealand was rocked by a horrific terrorist attack in which a gunman entered fire on two mosques, leaving 51 people dead. And while no kind of leadership can remove the pain of such a tragedy, Ardern’s actions in the aftermath of the events were incredibly powerful.
Alongside meeting with and embracing the families and communities affected by the tragedy and organising a two minutes silence in the week that followed, Ardern also made the powerful choice never to name the gunman involved in the shootings by name.
“He sought many things from this act of terror, but one was notoriety, and that is why you will never hear me mention his name,” she said in an address made to parliament.
7. When she changed gun laws in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack
Jacinda Ardern’s decisive leadership in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack lead to a swift change in the country’s gun laws in order to keep New Zealanders safe.
In an address to parliament after the law change in April 2019, Ardern stressed that she was there “because of the victims and families”.
She continued: “These weapons were designed to kill, and they were designed to maim. And that is what they did on the 15 March.”
8. When she echoed the words of Jo Cox in a speech about togetherness
Speaking at an Anzac Day service in 2019, Ardern echoed the words of murdered British GP Jo Cox: “There is more that unites us than divides us.”
Although Ardern did not mention Jo Cox by name, it’s likely that the nature of her speech – togetherness – led to her to honour Cox, who was murdered by a man with links to neo-Nazi and far-right groups.
Cox said those words in her opening speech to parliament, when she appealed to the government to embrace diversity and celebrate differences – an attitude Ardern possessed in her reaction to the Christchurch terrorist attacks.
9. When she replied to a little girl’s letter about dragons in the most adorable way
Besides being an incredibly effective and no-nonsense leader, Ardern has repeatedly proved herself to be down-to-earth and compassionate when it comes to the less-serious aspects of her role.
After receiving a letter (and a NZ$5 bribe) from an 11-year-old girl called Victoria asking the prime minister to help her gain telekinetic powers so that she could become a dragon trailer, Ardern sent a prompt response.
The letter read: “We were very interested to hear your suggestions about physics and dragons, but unfortunately we are not currently doing any work in either of those areas! I am therefore returning your bribe money, and I wish you all the very best in your quest for telekinesis, telepathy and dragons.”
Ardern then added in her own handwriting: “P.S. I’ll still keep an eye out for those dragons. Do they wear suits?”
10. When her government became the first western country to introduce an entire budget based on wellbeing as a priority
Throughout her time in office Jacinda Ardern has taken real, tangible action when it comes to mental health – and it’s seriously impressive.
Her wellbeing budget included NZ$1.9bn (around £980m) for mental health spending, and half a billion for frontline mental health workers.
11. When she reassured children that the Easter Bunny was a key worker
Even under the pressure of managing a global pandemic, Ardern still took the time to reassure New Zealand’s children that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy would be able to complete their jobs.
“You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” Ardern said. “But as you can imagine at this time they’re going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies.
“So I say to the children of New Zealand if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household then we have to understand that it’s a bit difficult at the moment for the bunny to perhaps get everywhere.”
12. When she took a pay cut to show solidarity with those affected by coronavirus
Alongside getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and saving thousands of lives in the progress, Ardern has also shown awareness of the economic impact the lockdown restrictions have had on people up and down the country.
In fact, on 15 April, she announced that herself and people in her government would take a 20% pay cut for the next six months, to show support for the struggle New Zealanders were facing.
“Today, I can confirm that myself, government ministers and public service chief executives will take a 20% pay cut for the next six months, as we acknowledge New Zealanders who are reliant on wage subsidies, have taken pay cuts and are losing their jobs as a result of Covid-19’s global pandemic,” she explained.
“We feel acutely the struggle that many New Zealanders are facing and so do the people that I work with on a daily basis.”
13. When she kept her cool during an earthquake while she was live-on-air
Being able to stay calm during a crisis is an essential quality in any good leader – and it’s safe to say Ardern has it in its bucketloads.
When an earthquake struck when she was midway through an interview earlier this year, Ardern didn’t seem at all fazed – even taking the time to explain why the interviewer might see things moving in the background.
“We’re just having a bit of an earthquake here, Ryan,” she said, in a hilariously understated comment.