Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation as Prime Minister of New Zealand unexpectedly on 19 January, sparking heartfelt tributes to her both at home, and internationally. Ardern was known internationally for her warm leadership style, and the wave of popularity that followed her elevation to the premiership in 2017 has been dubbed: ‘Jacindamania’.
Ardern won the respect of many New Zealanders in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings which left 51 dead. Her visit to the scene of the horror, and her speech following it demonstrated the calm, kind, yet firm leadership she brought to the island nation.
Despite her immense popularity abroad, Ardern faced criticism at home over the length and extent of covid restrictions, as well as her handling of the cost-of-living crisis. Aside from the criticism any politician gets, Ardern was repeatedly targeted by a vicious and misogynistic campaign of abuse online. Instead of just being seen as the symbol for young women everywhere, she also started representing the anonymous hatred and violence women are subjected to online every day. Nevertheless, time should be taken to look over what has been an illuminating career, and to take stock of a leader who leaves a legacy of kindness, honesty, and self-respect. Let’s look at 5 moments that stand out:
1. 2017 General Election
After a tumultuous 2016, 2017 was not expected to be any less negative. The October win for Ardern and her party led to a minority coalition with New Zealand first and thrust the ‘relentlessly positive’ MP onto the international stage for the first time. Her message of ending child poverty and improving relations between the government and Māori groups resonated with people in New Zealand, leading to a huge uptick in popularity for her party.
2. Taking Maternity Leave
The decision of Ardern to take maternity leave during her first term as prime minister was ground-breaking in New Zealand, as well as trend setting. The conversation around maternity leave for politicians in Ireland has led to a change in the law here. The visibility of a world leader taking maternity leave was vital in advancing that right for women worldwide.
3. The Pandemic response that led the world.
As many around the world languished under restrictions, New Zealand was open for business following the successful zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 by Ardern and her government. The rapid pace of restrictions and the closure of the border stopped much of the pandemic before it came to New Zealand. Despite criticism of the lockdown following the peak of the pandemic, Ardern’s strategy kept deaths low during a time when millions were dying worldwide due to failing healthcare systems.
4. The Christchurch Shootings.
The world watched in terror on 15 March when 51 people in the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Prayer Centre were brutally gunned down by Brenton Harrison Tarrant. The shooting was the deadliest in New Zealand history and led to a series of gun control reform bills passing through parliament. Ardern spoke eloquently and simply following the attacks, extending her sympathies not only as a politician, but as a mother as well.
The reasons cited by Ardern for her exit have been few so far; mainly citing the weight and complexity of the job, as well as not having ‘enough gas in the tank’ to continue serving in the role. A regular receiver of online vitriol and abuse, there has been much speculation made over her reasoning. Many have come to praise her decision to quit, and following the online reaction to it, have come to see her actions as vindicated.