Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, welcomed her first child, a girl, on Thursday. She is one of only two world leaders to give birth while in office (the first was Benazir Bhutto in 1990) and is now officially the first to take maternity leave.
News of her daughter’s birth broke in an Instagram post by the prime minister. She is shown holding her newborn with her partner, Clarke Gayford, by her side. In it, she thanked her well-wishers and the staff at Auckland City Hospital.
Ardern, who is the youngest female world leader, announced her pregnancy in January, three months after taking office. In a press conference, she reassured everyone that she was aware of the balancing act she had ahead of her and that it wasn’t a unique situation.
“I am not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but there are many women who have done it well before I have,” she said.
She also announced that she planned to take six weeks of maternity leave, during which time deputy prime minister Winston Peters would take charge. Ardern said she will continue to take part in major decisions and read briefings, but the day-to-day responsibilities would be left up to Peters. Upon her return to work, she said Gayford would take on full-time parenting duties, calling him the “‘first man of fishing’ and stay at home dad.”
Despite being clear and having a well-laid out plan in place, she still fielded questions about her temporary leave, prompting the prime minister to quip:
“I am not the first woman to multitask.”
Ardern’s decision to take some time off with her newborn — something Bhutto did not do — is especially important in our current climate, where women continue to be penalized for entering motherhood and taking maternity leave.
“Studies have shown that motherhood causes discrimination in the workplace,” Stephania Varalli, co-CEO of Women of Influence, a Toronto-based women’s collective, said to Global News. “Their wages are lower, they’re less likely to be hired or given key jobs, and they’re perceived as less competent because they have children at home to raise.”
She says Ardern’s example shows that it’s possible for women to make their own choices about motherhood and career, and that choosing to have children is not an obstacle in a woman’s professional path.
It’s also beneficial to have a working mother in a position of power where she can help to establish policies that will benefit everyone.
“Think about that picture that was taken in the U.S. where a room full of men were working out health care issues and regarding women. … When you have a working mother in power, she can bring a necessary perspective,” she says.
In addition, Gayford’s decision to be a full-time stay-at-home dad also helps to break stereotypes about fatherhood and paternity leave, which will hopefully work to encourage fathers to take advantage of the opportunities given to them to take time off when their child is born.
“This is an example that needs to be set,” Varalli says.
“People have a lot of unconscious bias toward gender roles. Even those who think of themselves as feminists can hang on to some of these cultural norms. The more we have people in visible positions who are showing that it’s a workable model, the more chance we have of people on every level to take that path themselves.”
—With files from Maham Abedi
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