Stepping down, a Sign of Strength: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Women in Politics /

Stepping down, a Sign of Strength: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern announced that she would step down as the country’s leader in a precedent-setting resignation, shocking many of her constituents and leaders around the world. Not only did she set the tone with her exemplary term in office, but her departure adds a human touch to the role and can be taken as a lesson for politicians worldwide.

At 37, Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader in 2017. As a liberal politician known for her demeanour and compassion, she is held in high esteem around the globe. She led New Zealand through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a series of disasters, including the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, and the White Island volcanic eruption. Her government’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic was recognized across the world as the first to not only contain but eliminate the virus completely. Under her leadership, the government unveiled NZD 2.8 billion in income support for the country’s most vulnerable. This was primarily directed towards women – as New Zealand’s sales and hospitality sectors, which employ 70% women, were among the hardest hit by lockdown restrictions. These and other financial aids were a part of the government’s NZD 50 billion COVID-19 recovery fund meant to address both short and longer-term economic impacts – all factors contributing to her party’s historic landslide win in 2020, reflecting the support behind her.

Her 2020 Federal Budget was conducted through a well-being lens focused on the needs of her people and environment alongside the economy. This included an investment of NZD 1 billion in social services to support education, housing and employment. In addition to an NZD 185 million investment in family violence services.

Not only did her policy work support and uplift women across the country, but during her time as Prime Minister she led by example to pave the way for women in politics going forward. She was one of the first female leaders in the world to have a baby in office. This contributed to changes in nursing rules in the parliamentary chamber and other family-friendly initiatives put in place by the speaker. It also resulted in a dramatic shift in public perception and political culture, playing a critical role in the definition of what it means to run for political office as a woman.

Today, there are more women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ and indigenous MPs in the New Zealand parliament than ever before. This was reflected in her 20-person cabinet composed of eight women, eight indigenous persons and three members of the LGBTQ+ community. The New Zealand parliament now serves as the world leader for gender parity and representation in politics.

In her resignation, she stated, “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”. Further, “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”.

Her recognition and prioritization of her own well-being speak volumes about her ability to have done so for others during her term. She displayed the characteristics of a fearless leader coming into office and a responsible one in departing. Her accountability to the people of her country reaches beyond her own political ambitions and for this, she will be recognized as a powerful female leader throughout history.