Jacinda Ardern as a feminist icon in the contemporary world
The world knows Jacinda Ardern as the current Prime Minister of New Zealand and as the youngest head of government in the world. Her governance has been widely praised across the world – be it the compassionate handling of the 2019 Christchurch attacks or successfully leading her country through the COVID-19 pandemic or her recent APEC diplomacy that brought Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Joe Biden together on the same video call.
However, behind all this, who is Jacinda Ardern? – well, in her own words, she is a working mom who is using the age-old trick of multitasking to manage her work along with raising a child. In doing so, she has set an inspiring example for leaders and women alike – be it taking her child along with her to the UN when she was a breastfeeding mother or doing a Facebook live from her bedroom to give updates on the pandemic, just after putting her baby to sleep.
While Ardern is aware that she is a role model for many young girls, she does not deter from presenting herself as someone who is neither perfect nor flawless; as someone who is human just like the rest of us. When asked by a British TV host to comment on Michelle Obama’s “women can’t have it all” statement, Ardern agreed with it and said –
“we should not expect women to be superhuman….I can’t physically do the job of being the Prime Minister and a mother by myself. I’m not a superwoman. We shouldn’t pretend that we are. That does a disservice to all women. It raises expectations that no one can meet.”
Ardern is not an ideal character in a movie or in a fairy tale who seems to have all the stars and moons handed to her at the perfect time. The patriarchal world wants us to believe that women have superpowers and are supposed to manage both their job and the domestic chores in the most efficient way. However, people forget that vaginas don’t come with superpowers. Women are also human beings and they are allowed to have their flaws and limitations. Ever since women have joined the workforce, they have been struggling to meet unreal expectations and live up to the perfect image created by the society.
This is exactly the kind of image that Ardern is trying to shatter. Because here we have a woman in the real world, a woman as human and as flawed as all of us, who admits that she is not a superwoman, that she is struggling like the rest of us.
As a girl, Ardern never grew up believing that her gender would stand in the way of her achieving whatever she wanted in life. And one of the reasons for this was her role model – former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke.
Ardern describes herself as a social democrat, a progressive, a republican and a feminist. Upon taking office as the PM for the first time in 2017, Ardern said that her government would be “focused, empathetic and strong”
Even before formally entering politics, Ardern had at several points in her life, stood up publicly for what she believed in.
At 14, she managed to convince her school officials to allow girls to wear pants – which was otherwise considered a male attire in the 1980s – 90s.
In her early 20s, she left the Mormon church because it was homophobic. She explained her departure by saying: “I lived in a flat with three gay friends and I was still going to church every so often and I just remember thinking ‘this is really inconsistent – I’m either doing a disservice to the church or my friends’.
Even after becoming the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern has held onto advocating LGBTQ rights. In 2018, she became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to march in a pride parade. In November 2020, she also introduced a new cabinet that has been described as ‘incredibly diverse and inclusive’. The cabinet includes 3 members of the LGBTQ community. This constitutes of Grants Robertson, who is the first gay deputy prime minister.
Ever since Jacinda Ardern was elected as the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017, she has passed a lot of women centric laws that have contributed in the upliftment of the social condition of women in various ways.
In July 2018, Ardern announced the start of her government’s flagship Families Package. Among its provisions, the package gradually increased paid parental leave to 26 weeks and paid $60-a-week to low and middle-income families with young children.
She has also initiated the provision of free menstrual hygiene products in schools
Ardern supported liberalising abortion law by removing abortion from the Crimes Act 1961. In March 2020, she voted for the Abortion Legislation Act that amends the law to decriminalise abortion.
Since the rates of domestic violence are high in New Zealand and women sometimes tend to stay in relationships because they can’t afford to go through the process of separation, Ardern’s government introduced the Right to Paid Leave if someone is coping with getting out of a domestic relationship
She is also very focussed on the issue of maternity leave. She sees it as a health issue and emphasises that women need time to recover.
Jacinda Ardern is the Second Prime Minister in the history of the world, after former Pakistan Prime Minister late Benazir Bhutto, to deliver a baby while in office – establishing that a person’s personal and professional life are separate and one should not be affected by the other.
What draws me to her is the fact that she is using the platform that she has to talk about issues like maternity leave, difference between personal and professional life, sexual harassment, gender pay gap etc – issues that actually matter a lot in the real world.
She is advocating everything that she stands for both by talking about it on public platforms and passing laws on it. So, she is basically working towards the causes she believes in, in whatever capacity she can and isn’t that who a feminist is? – someone who believes in the equality of all genders and who translates this belief into their everyday lives by acting upon it in whatever capacity they can.
I’ve heard and read so many times that women make for better leaders, but to be honest I’m not very sure. We’ve seen quite a few female leaders around the world who could make us question that. However, what I do know is that the path that we are heading towards right now, with our current leaders, does not look very promising; and we need a change. A change that replaces the current cis-male leadership of the world with not just women, but leaders of varied genders, sexualities and origins.