At 37, Jacinda Ardern became the world’s youngest head of state in 2017, as New Zealand’s Prime Minister. Over the weekend and a little less than three years later, the latest Newshub polls indicate record approval ratings for Ardern’s Labour party.
The results came in on the same day that Ardern turned 40, and they are recorded as Ardern’s leadership is being recognised internationally.
Birthday celebrations are being marked by a number creative means. Block Vandal, a Wainuiomata street artist, painted a Lego-styled image of the Prime Minister on a Lower Hutt retaining wall in the Wellington Region in NZ. He took a picture of his work and posted it on social media with a caption: “Happy Birthday Jacinda. Hope you had a great day with your family!”
Ardern’s face now accompanies a dozen other Lego faces of superheroes including Batman, Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk.
To mark this significant birthday milestone from one of the world’s most celebrated leaders, we’re taking a look at just some her incredible achievements since taking the role.
She became the second female state leader to have a baby in office, and challenged expectations
On 21 June 2018, less than a year into her tenure as PM, Ardern became the first sitting New Zealand PM to give birth and the second female state leader to do so in the world, when her daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford was born.
“I’m sure we’re going through all of the emotions new parents go through, but at the same time feeling so grateful for all the kindness and best wishes from so many people,” Ardern has said.
Ardern had announced her pregnancy on social media, saying, “ I’ll be PM & a mum.”
Since then, she has transformed public assumptions about women in leadership. The transparency she offers the world (frequently posting videos, updates and news on social media abodut her role as a parent) has been a welcomed relief from the traditionally opaque obscurity into the private lives of our politicians.
Six weeks after the birth of her daughter, Ardern posted a Facebook Live video about her time off from her duties as a PM and settling into life with new baby daughter, Neve. During the stream, Ardern revealed that the family is “doing really well,” but laughingly acknowledges she and partner, Clarke Gayford have “no routine to speak of”.
“I can hear now a chorus of parents laughing at the suggestion that you would ever have a routine with a five-week old baby but we’re doing really well nonetheless,” the Prime Minister joked.
She eliminated COVID-19 in her country
In late April, Ardern announced that there was no longer any undetected community transmission of COVID-19 and that her country had effectively “eliminated” the virus, with health authorities aware of and able to trace each current case.
“We have done it together,” Ardern said in a press conference on Monday afternoon, just hours before the country began a phased exit from Level 4 lockdown measures. “There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way,” she said.
A short while after, New Zealand has since lifted all COVID-19 restrictions except for international border closures, meaning New Zealanders’ lives can return to normal, or “as normal as we can in the time of a global pandemic.”
She became the first world leader to bring baby to the UN general assembly and challenged more expectations
Ardern made headlines in 2018 when she brought her daughter into a UN speech after she brought her daughter into a UN General Assembly in New York.
On the global reaction, she said at the time: “I love that people have shared in this joy with us, and that’s been because I have a really public role and so I accept that means that our family life will be quite public… But at the same time, I’ve chosen a public life, Neve hasn’t.”
Ardern appeared with her three-month-old daughter at the UN and was seen playing with her before giving a speech at the Nelson Mandela peace summit.
Ardern told reporters that her partner’s expenses were paid for out of her own pocket; later, her partner posted a photo on Twitter on Monday of their daughters’ security pass, which reads “first baby, adding “I wish I could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change. Great yarn for her 21st (birthday).”
She banned military-style semi-automatics less than a month after Christchurch shootings
Ardern received universal praise for her leadership in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting, where an alt-right white suprematist killed 51 people and injured 49 in two mosques.
Ardern refused to name the Christchurch terrorist attacker in her public addresses: saying, “I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
Just six days after the shootings, Ardern announced gun control measures to ban all types of semi-automatic weapons.
“On 15 March [the day of the attack] our history changed forever,” she said. “Now our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place.”
She became the first NZ PM to march in an LGBTQ+ Pride event
In February 2018, Ardern was the first ever NZ PM to march in a Pride parade. She joined a crowd of more than 25,000 in Auckland that called for more support for LGBTI people with mental illness.
Ardern told TVNZ that the parade was about diversity and inclusiveness. “I’m really proud of the work the team has done to make that real over the years and in our laws.”
“But we can’t be complacent. As long as there are kids in New Zealand, if they are LGBTQI, if they have high levels of mental health issues or self harm, that tells us that we still have work to do.”
She pledged to to provide period products to all girls
Earlier this year, Ardern made a public commitment to end “period poverty” by giving all school-aged people who have periods free sanitary products. Access to sanitary products and to safe, hygienic spaces in which to use them is not equally distributed – and Ardern wanted that changed.
“By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” she told reporters. “We know that nearly 95,000 nine-to-eighteen year olds may stay at home during their periods due to not being able to afford period products.”
She promised to spend NZ$2.6m on a scheme that would provide free sanitary products (aka tampons, pads, menstrual cups, etc) to schools in an effort to tackle period poverty.
As NZ heads to the polls on September 19, things are looking positive and certain for this incredible leader. Despite the promising poll figures, Ardern told Newstalk ZB Breakfast host Mike Hosking that she always keeps a “healthy skepticism around polls”.
“We will never be complacent, a lot can change very quickly,” she said. “We know that we have to continue everyday to earn the support of New Zealanders.”