Women in positions of power, especially those of political nature, have historically been insufficiently represented within society. According to an article by TIME Magazine, just 11 countries of nearly 200 globally are lead by women today. However, gender norms are changing as feminist movements throughout the past century have pushed the limits of traditional female roles. New Zealand is one of the most progressive and equal countries around the world when it comes to issues of race and gender. As of October 26, 2017, Jacinda Ardern became the country’s third female prime minister—a feat on its own. She then went on to represent a greater controversy regarding the lack of women in positions of political power and the expectations placed on them once there. Ardern countered these expectations as a young female leader, unmarried and pregnant while still in office.
The prime minister used this opportunity to make a statement about gender equality, proving that traditional roles and rules regarding men, women, marriage, and children are outdated and wrongfully stigmatized. Ardern went on to suggest she would take a maternity leave, a first for any leader around the world. She announced that following her maternity leave, her husband and fishing documentarian will become a stay at home dad. She pridefully acknowledged on Instagram that her and her partner would become two of the many parents who “wear two hats.” New Zealand Labour prime minister Helen Clarke stated, “These are the kinds of practical arrangements working women make all over the world—the novelty here is that it is a prime minister who is making them. The signal this sends, however, is that this is life in the 21st century.” Clearly, Ardern has defied what has been typically represented in political positions by living and acting as many families do in today’s age. All at once, she disputes the expectations placed on politicians, traditional relationships and the role of women by decisively representing the new reality.
Upon the announcement of her pregnancy to the country, she remarked, “I don’t want to ever give the impression that I’m some kind of wonder woman or that women should be expected to do everything because I am. I’m not doing everything.” On June 21, 2018, her young daughter was born and it appeared that the whole of New Zealand was watching, waiting, and supporting the 37-year old leader. She shared the news of her child’s birth over a Facebook Live video. This openness implies a level of commitment to relatability to which her country has connected. She has achieved a 76% personal approval rate among NZ citizens.
Among her many achievements, from becoming the youngest prime minister to take office in NZ to being the first woman to take a maternity leave as the leader of a country, she was also named as part of TIME Magazine’s most influential people of 2018. Jacinda Ardern challenges the notion that women can’t have it all, she confidently meshes motherhood with career while leading a country into the new epoch. For women and politics around the world, she is paving the way for more female empowerment and acting—not simply remarking—on behalf of her values about equality.
ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college.