Why New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Deserves To Be Celebrated
Harish Iyer tells us why we need to celebrate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and not compare her to other leaders.
At only 37 years of age, Jacinda Ardern has set a benchmark as New Zealand’s prime minister. She is a third generation New Zealander and the second prime minister to give birth while holding her office. Jacinda Ardern is second only to our neighbour Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, who, around 30 years ago, performed her duties as prime minister right through her pregnancy term.
New Zealand’s Ardern has formed a coalition government with three different parties with ideological differences. She has a deputy prime minister who took charge when she was out of office on her pregnancy leave.
Post delivery, when Ardern joined office, the father of her child took complete responsibility of the baby. The father of her baby, Clarke Gayford, and Jacinda Ardern, are not married to each other.
Jacinda: Much More than a Quick-Witted Prime Minister
Why am I speaking about Ardern right now? Well, until recently, we knew her as a witty prime minister who appeared in American talk shows with Stephen Colbert. After the terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, we have come to know her as one of the strongest world leaders, one who is both tough and compassionate.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wasted no time after the attack which killed nearly 50 Muslims, and cracked down on social media sites for allowing the live streaming of the attack.
She reminded everyone who came to her nation and made it their home that her country and she are grateful for them, and that New Zealand stands for the values of hospitality and love. Ardern reminded everyone that the attacker doesn’t represent the values of New Zealand, and refused to ‘grant him notoriety’ by using his name. She said to the public, “he will face the full force of the law”.
Jacinda’s Vow to Change Gun Laws: US Could Take a Cue
Unlike in the United States, where, even after several mass shootings the debate on gun laws is yet to be resolved, Ardern came with a quick assurance – “our gun laws will change”. On 21 March 2019, less than a week after the attacks on the mosque-goers, the New Zealand Prime Minister confirmed that post a legislation, all kinds of weapons that were used in the attack, would be banned.
She confirmed that people who have already bought the guns could avail of a buyback program, where the government would buy the guns and destroy them forever.
She went to schools in Christchurch, and when a student asked Ardern how she was feeling, she said, without mincing words, after thanking the student, “very sad”. Ardern covered her head with a scarf as she mourned with the bereaved Muslim families, offering a cue to others to wear headscarves in solidarity. She said “they are us” while referring to those who were murdered.
Why the Hate & Disguised Islamophobia, People On the Interwebz?
Meanwhile, I went through a few posts and comments on Facebook about my new hero of the free world, Jacinda Ardern, and found some “intellectual” discussions about how the hijab and headscarf are symbols of oppression. This was passed off as “feministic ideals”. But in my belief, women and those of other genders, should have the right to wear whatever they want, to show solidarity or to express themselves.
Another question doing the rounds was – if Ardern would wear any other symbol of solidarity, if the attack was not on Muslims but those of some other religion.
First, Ardern’s family belongs to the Mormon faith, but she is a self-proclaimed atheist, which obviously means she isn’t religious. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that she would have worn a saree or salwar kameez to show solidarity with Hindus? Well, maybe she would have – why do you think she wouldn’t – and more over – why do you even ask?
The question itself is an attempt to undermine her empathy towards the grieving members of a certain faith. And while we tactfully wrap our Islamophobia in a seemingly logical argument, lest we forget, for Ardern, both Hindus and Muslims are minorities. Her acts of empathy and solidarity deserve to be celebrated.
Jacinda Ardern Sets New Benchmark for Gender Roles
Jacinda Ardern isn’t married to her partner, and has a child with him. She refers to him as her partner. I can imagine that if she did the same in India, she would have possibly had more challenges to fight in the form of social prejudice and value judgements. She probably would have been called illegitimate and words like charitraheen and bin-byaahi-maa would have been used quite generously to describe her. We wouldn’t have spared the man who is her partner either.
We would have called him joru-ka-ghulam and also bullied him for being a stay-at-home dad, as it is still seen as unmanly.
The truth is that it is not just India; maybe America would have not been open to Ardern’s life choices either. America is yet to have a woman head of state.
Stop Comparing Jacinda Ardern to Obama & Trudeau. She’s Her Own Person
Jacinda Ardern is not the new female Barrack Obama. She isn’t the lady Justin Trudeau. She is not even Benazir Butto or Indira Gandhi. She is Jacinda Ardern. A woman who shuns comparisons with other world leaders and carves her own path and her own politics of compassion – she leads the nation with her heart.
And as her nation grieves the death of their own, we grieve over the fact that we don’t have her in our politics.
I am jealous of New Zealand. Every nation deserves to have their own Jacinda Ardern. 2019 is here. The elections are here. We crave for Jacinda here.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist who tweets at @hiyer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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