New Zealand is celebrating the arrival of the country’s First Baby — the daughter of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Ardern is making history as only the second prime minister to give birth while in office — Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gave birth while in office in 1990. Ardern also set a new precedent on June 15 when she became the first elected head of state ever to take maternity leave.
Ardern is used to making such firsts. When she was elected in October at age 37, she became New Zealand’s youngest-ever prime minister. When she announced her pregnancy in January with partner Clarke Gayford, Ardern didn’t flinch at questions about her marital status, noting that they had no plans to wed. Ardern has said that Gayford will serve as stay-at-home dad once she returns to office.
For Ardern’s six-week leave, Winston Peters, her deputy, is taking the helm, managing the daily duties of running the government. Ardern will consult on important issues, and she has noted that this arrangement is the same as when she’s traveling outside of New Zealand on official duties.
This is an important moment in history for women and mothers in politics — and Ardern is now smack-dab in the middle of this critical shift. Last summer, Australian Sen. Larissa Waters made waves by breastfeeding while addressing Parliament, and in April, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first senator to give birth while in office. Meanwhile, record numbers of women are running for office across the United States — even while the U.S. falls woefully behind other developed nations by not mandating paid parental leave.
This spring, in response to a critic who claimed that a head of state couldn’t care for a baby and a country simultaneously, Ardern scoffed. “Women multitask every day – every single day,” she told Today. “The sentiment in that piece suggests that women can only be mothers or ‘other.’ Can I be a prime minister and a mother? Absolutely. Will I have help to do it? Yes.”
Earlier this year, Ardern was named to the prestigious Time 100, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had this to say about the prime minister: “In a world that too often tells women to stay small, keep quiet — and that we can’t have both motherhood and a career — Jacinda Ardern proves how wrong and outdated those notions of womanhood are. She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.”
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