New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the very definition of a positive role model for young women. And as the youngest female world leader, she’s showing women that they don’t have to sacrifice their careers for motherhood. With just days to go before her due date arrives, Ardern has an ambitious schedule.
Right now, her government is working to change the way society treats women, Bloomberg notes. She fully intends to close the gender pay gap. Something that the U.S. has been kicking around for decades.
“We were the first country where women fought for and won the right to vote, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue to be a leader,” noted Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said. “The new government has demonstrated a real commitment to prioritizing gender equality because it’s the right thing to do.”
With the birth of her baby (scheduled to make the said appearance on June 17), Ardern will become the second world leader to birth in office, following in the footsteps of the late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayforde, host of a popular fishing show, will be a stay-at-home dad. And Ardern plans to go back to work after six weeks.
That isn’t typical for many women in New Zealand. In this country, about 61 percent of women return to work within 12 months of giving birth. Sadly, women take on average a 4.4 percent pay cut when their children are born, whereas, with men, the pay rate stays the same. That’s according to a study published last month by the Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Institute.
“It’s ethically indefensible to pay people less simply because of gender discrimination,” Genter 38, added. Her first child is due in August. “Addressing flexible working arrangement is critical to making sure that there aren’t barriers to women, particularly when they have family duties.”
While the gender pay gap shrank from 16.2 percent to 9.4 percent in 1998, progress has slowed to a snail’s pace since then. So the Ministry for Women has come up with a roadmap aiming to close the pay gap within the public sector by 2021. But along with closing the pay gap between men and women, the hope is to funnel more women into jobs that pay better.
The plan has yet to be published, but Genter said the plans include:
- Making jobs for working parents more flexible.
- Giving remuneration to workers on parental leave.
- Providing training to rid the workplace of gender bias.
- Providing more women with senior roles.
Changing gender stereotypes, especially in regards to working women or men take time off for their children is necessary, notes Equal Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue.
“Of course we need more Jacinda Arderns as role models to our younger women, but we absolutely need more Clarke Gayfords stating loudly and proudly that they will take on the major caring role,” Blue said. “We need to change parenthood from a low-status job to one that is important and meaningful.”
If you’re curious, here’s where New Zealand and the U.S. stands when it comes to making progress on this crucial issue.
Trying to improve the status of working women in New Zealand has been a bit of a pressure cooker for Ardern, but she said she realizes she’s in a privileged position and is grateful for all the support she’s received.
“I do not want to create a false impression that all women should be superhuman or superwoman,” she said earlier this week. “I’m able to do what I’m doing because I have enormous support around me. I wouldn’t want to be held up as some kind of exemplar because it’s not easy, and I’m lucky.”
But closing the gender gap isn’t the only thing on Ardern’s overflowing plate. When she took office in October, she listed climate change as another concern, The Guardian notes. She plans to establish a climate change commission with the hopes of dropping greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. She wants to reestablish the Emissions Trading Scheme and incorporate New Zealand’s agricultural sector in the plan. Something that New Zealand dairy farmers are unhappy with, saying that it would cripple their industry. But the plan is mainly the government’s attempt at dealing with climate change in a rapidly changing environment and is crucial for dealing with major problems such as rising sea levels.
And she’s anxiously awaiting the arrival of the little houseguest. She’s not too worried if the child drops in early.
“Oh look, everything happens in its own good time doesn’t it, but it’s not stopping me from keeping going.”
To which I say:
“You go, girl!”
You can find out more about Jacinda Ardern in the video below.
Featured image by NBC News via YouTube video