Women of Today Series
She graced multiple international headlines after she happily announced that her tiny nation of New Zealand reported no new COVID-19 cases for at least 17 consecutive days and has confirmed that the health system has already eliminated local transmission in the country. She has then been looked up to by a multitude of people, applauding New Zealand’s COVID-19 ‘successful’ response. She is now admired by many for doing a relatively incredible job, not only during the pandemic, but also in the span of her administration.
She is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
In the run-up to the country’s general elections in 2017, she was considered to be the unpopular choice, since her rival, National Party’s Bill English, had already established a significant name and had gained support through his short term reign after assuming the office of the former Prime Minister John Key who resigned in December 2016. Representing the oppositional Labour party, Ardern stood up to build a little, yet steady and consistent support. She made the most out of her charismatic image and has magnetized crowds since then. According to Andrew Burns, former senior adviser of Jacinda Ardern, in an article by the Nation Builder, Ardern established a connection with the voters through “her ability to communicate with people and talk in an open and honest way that [didn’t] sound like a traditional politician.” With that, Ardern gradually amassed support from diverse sectors of the kiwi society which made her considerably popular before the polls opened.
The results of the election were remarkably tight, and the gap between the main parties were narrow but because of a coalition and of course, through her signature charisma, liberal ideologies, and inclusive rhetoric, she won and became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister at only age 38. Since then, her popularity grew even more after her statements regarding mental health and environmental guardianship at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her name started to be regarded with the likes of Justin Trudeau and many other young, liberal politicians. She was deemed to be the leader of the masses who champions for inclusivity and equality. She continued to make historic firsts by being the first prime minister of the country to join a Pride parade and the first to be pregnant while in office.
However, inevitably, ever since her victory in 2017, Jacinda Ardern has already faced several social issues and happenings which tested her ability to respond according to her established semblance of sociopolitical compassion and rhetoric. One of which is the Christchurch shootings of March 2019.
The terrorist attack done by a self-proclaimed white supremacist to the mosques of Christchurch devastated the nation. The shooting killed 51 people and has been considered to be the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s modern history. In the light of the horrifying event, Jacinda Ardern stood up, not only as a leader but also as a mother and a champion of inclusivity and peace. She became the face of New Zealand’s grief and had a remarkable job in consoling the victims of the attack as well as the whole nation. This particular response and resolve earned the praise of a lot of people and even her critics. In an article by Ishaan Tharoor of the Independent, Ardern was lauded by people who have seen “the calm and compassion she has shown in the wake of the worst mass killing in her country’s modern history”. She further showed sympathetic gestures by wearing a symbolic headscarf as she visits injured victims in the hospitals and kiwi Muslims and at her speech at the Christchurch memorial service. In the speech, Ardern reinforced the New Zealander values of love and compassion and that New Zealand is a “home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.” Ardern consequently showed competency and effectiveness by firmly expressing her plans in mandating for reform on the gun laws in the country.
Ardern’s remarkably compassionate response to the attacks eventually cemented her respectable reputation. Ever since then, she continued to prove that she’s one of the most efficient leaders in the world through her achievements on the betterment of the environment and social welfare sector. In a viral video that features Ardern recounting her achievements in her two year period in office, so far, in just two years, Ardern already had banned single-use plastic, planted 140 million trees, pursued a crackdown on foreign home buyers, made highways safer and extended parental leave. This impressive list, nonetheless, doesn’t stop there.
A year after the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history came another challenge which would further test Ardern’s leadership, the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a story that is still in writing. The disease, which recorded its first outbreak in China back in December 2019, has now infiltrated virtually every country in the world and has caused major socio-economic repercussions. With an alarming death rate for the time being, the pandemic disease has tested not only each country’s healthcare systems but also their head of state’s political discernment and efficiency.
New Zealand recorded its first case of the virus back in February 28, 2020. However, unlike other countries, New Zealand acted early. On the 3rd of February 2020, almost three weeks before they recorded their first case, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the country’s health ministry announced that foreign travelers from China would be denied entry to New Zealand, with only citizens and permanent residents along with their families being allowed to enter. And on the anniversary of the Christchurch shooting in March, Ardern announced implementations of strict quarantine measures, and in the same month, New Zealand entered a nationwide lockdown. Contrary to European countries who put their country on lockdown only when there was already an exponential increase of the cases, New Zealand only had a couple of hundred cases and zero deaths at the time of the nationwide lockdown.
The lockdown and quarantine measures were strictly followed and supported by a majority of New Zealanders. And because of the ‘go hard, go early’ approach of Ardern’s administration, in the next two weeks after the lockdown, the nation saw a remarkably significant decline on the COVID-19 cases. The country even ultimately declared that they have eliminated the disease in early June which was immediately put off by a small breach of quarantine measures as two foreign nationals tested positive. Nevertheless, Ardern’s response to the global pandemic was still regarded as incredibly successful and efficient. Her implementation of health protocols and quarantine measures weren’t centered on fear; rather, she once upheld empathy and kindness as the central approach in providing solutions. Her leadership was positioned on collectivity rather than panic, fear, or denial. She often addressed her country as “our team of five million” and has urged the country to unite against the disease; an approach contrary to other world leaders who chose to declare a ‘war’ against the pandemic which incited the feeling of trepidation and distress among its people.
The havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet done and the world is still submerged from the health crisis. Nevertheless, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s current response to the pandemic continues to serve as a ‘role model’ for other world leaders. Her leadership, which was already tested by two appalling events, continues to stand as a stronghold for social empathy and compassion, an inclusive liberal ideology that is currently seen as the future leadership style. She’s a leader who does things above the bare minimum and the results would support that. Although the world isn’t used to seeing a female leader resolving problems, it is high time for it to regard Ardern as a benchmark in electing politicians at seats of power.
Yes, even though she might seem like the ideal leader, she’s still not perfect. However, we need to recognize that it is with leaders like her that the future generations will find empowerment and acceptance. Inclusivity, diversity, and empathy will be the future leaders’ fundamental ideologies and the youth is now inclined towards those.
This year will be the next general elections in New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern is seeking for reelection. With what she has achieved and did, she surely is looking for another term in the office. With what is currently happening in the world, should other world leaders follow her track?