New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a compelling character for more than one reason. At 37, she is the country's youngest leader since the 19th century. She's the third female prime minister out of a total of 40. As her countrywoman Lorde would say, she didn't come from money: She's the daughter of a police officer and a cafeteria worker. And, she's an amateur DJ.
Now, Ardern is set to become the second world leader in modern history to give birth while in office. The first was Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, who gave birth while she was prime minister in 1990. (She was assassinated in December 2007.) Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford are expecting their first child in June. They found out she was pregnant just a few days before she became prime minister on October 26, 2017.
She kept the pregnancy private until the announcement this week: In response to critics, she said in a press conference today, “None of them detected I had pretty bad morning sickness for three months of establishing the government.”
Ardern is quite confident it will all work out.
“I am not the first woman to multitask. I am not the first woman to work and have a baby,” Ardern said in the conference, as reported by The Washington Post. “We are going to make this work, and New Zealand is going to help us raise our first child.”
Ardern said she plans to take six weeks of maternity leave. New Zealand citizens will be entitled to 22 weeks of paid parental leave as of July, and 26 weeks as of 2020 thanks to Ardern's Labour Party. Deputy prime minister Winston Peters will take over while she's on leave. Gayford, her partner, will be the “full-time caregiver,” she said.
Women leaders praised Ardern for leading with a strong example, showing that women shouldn't have to choose between being a mother and leading a country.
“Every #woman should have the choice of combining family & career,” tweeted Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister.
“This is first and foremost a personal moment for her — but it also helps demonstrate to young women that holding leadership positions needn’t be a barrier to having children (if you want to),” Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, tweeted.
Stateside, we're still struggling to catch up — both female-leader-wise and paid-leave-wise. The U.S. is the only developed country without federally mandated paid maternity leave, though the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
If our country were to have a female president and she were to get pregnant, Ellen Bravo, co-executive director of Family Values @ Work, tells Refinery29, she would likely use disability leave since federal employees don't get paid maternal leave. Although "the president of the United States doesn't ask for permission to go golfing — I imagine there would be leeway," she adds.
"It's delightful to learn that New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pregnant," Bravo says. "Leaders are role models; it's important for people to see someone in her position taking leave and then incorporating a baby into her work life. We hope this will inspire leaders in the U.S. to listen to the voters in the U.S. who want them to pass a comprehensive paid leave policy, so that we are no longer one of two countries in the world with no paid leave."