When Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in October 2017, she became the country’s youngest Prime Minister and one of the youngest currently-serving world leaders.
The second of two daughters born to a Mormon family, Ardern spent her first years in Murupara, a small town best known as a centre of Maori gang activity, where seeing “children without shoes on their feet or anything to eat for lunch” inspired her to eventually enter politics.
Her father—a career law-enforcement officer who later became the New Zealand government’s high commissioner to the island of Niue—moved his family to Morrinsville, southeast of Auckland, where Ardern attended primary and secondary school. She matriculated to the University of Waikato in 1999.
Ardern’s association with the Labour Party began in 1999 when she joined the party and became involved in the reelection campaign of Harry Duynhoven, a Labour MP in the New Plymouth district. Following graduation, Ardern became a researcher for another Labour MP, Phil Goff. That experience would lead to a position on the staff of Prime Minister Helen Clark, New Zealand’s 2nd female PM.
Rejecting a pay rise
The official salary of the Prime Minister is approximately $NZ470,000 (S$422,000). Wages for the country’s politicians are set by an independent body, a process that deliberately keeps the annual pay review at arms-length from the politicians.
However in August 2018, Ardern announced that a 3% rise that had been recommended by the Remuneration Authority wasn’t “acceptable” and that her cabinet had voted to instead freeze wages and allowances where they were for a year.
Juggling work and motherhood
In September 2018, Ardern made history as the first world leader to attend the United Nations general assembly meeting with her baby in tow.
Ardern appeared with her 3-month-old daughter at the UN and played with her before giving a speech at the Nelson Mandela peace summit. While she spoke, Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford held the baby on his lap.
Ardern gave birth to Neve Te Aroha at Auckland Hospital on June 21, 2018 and returned to work in early August following 6 weeks of maternity leave. Ardern revealed that juggling parenthood and the prime ministership had “met my expectations” but the joy she felt at Neve “had far surpassed my expectations”.
Comforting a nation
The Christchurch shooting on March 15 was the worst terrorist attack on New Zealand soil. A white supremacist gunman stormed into local mosques, gunning down Muslim worshippers. Ardern’s response to the attack won her worldwide praise and sympathy.
In the immediate hours following the shooting, her words sought to comfort and counsel a grieving nation still reeling from the horrors of Islamophobia and white nationalism.
After her initial remarks, Ardern went on to tell Parliament that she would never name the shooter. Instead, she urged, “Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.” Ardern also wore a hijab while comforting families of the victims and others in New Zealand’s Muslim community.
Policy changes after the Christchurch shootings
Ardern also led the way in reforming New Zealand’s gun laws and called on Facebook and other social media companies to take action against violent extremist content online.
In May 2019, Ardern spearheaded The Christchurch Call – a voluntary commitment by governments and tech companies to improve their efforts to tackle extremist content. Facebook in return, has announced new rules curbing its streaming feature. The tech giant said there would be a “one-strike policy” banning those who violate new Facebook Live rules as well as users who share extremist content.