She's the youngest person in 150 years to lead her island country. Meet 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's new prime minister. As the head of state, Ardern has indicated her priority topics include climate change, inequality in living standards, and women's advancement in both the home and workplace. Outside of politics, the former Mormon likes cheese rolls, live music, and sometimes moonlights as a DJ.
Ardern embarked on her winning campaign a mere two months before the election, after she took over the Labour Party — or in her words, took on "the worst job in the world." Immediately after the Labour Party ushered her in as its leader, Ardern caught international attention when she deftly handled a question about choosing between parenthood or work, one male politicians rarely have to contend with. Male TV show host Jesse Mulligan asked Ardern if she felt the "choice between having babies and having a career" was a decision she needed to make or had already made. Ardern, who had told reporters before that she desired children, took it in stride — but not without ridiculing the probing inquiry in the first place:
It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. ... It is a woman's decision about when they choose to have children. It should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job, or have job opportunities.
Ardern described her campaign leading up to the election as "relentlessly positive," although one local commentator described it as "naive at best." The media dubbed the strong Labour support as "Jacinda-mania" as she competed neck-in-neck with National Party opponent Bill English.
Ardern ran on the main promises of the Labour Party platform: three years of free post-secondary education, free community-based mental health services, and the ban of foreign speculators from buying existing homes in the country. The latter targets New Zealand's current housing crisis, where rising property prices has forced hundreds of families to live in makeshift housing and others to live in poorly built, unsafe houses. The Labour Party also signed a deal with the Green Party, agreeing to hold a referendum on legalizing cannabis for personal use by 2020, treating drug abuse as a health issue, and increasing funding to drug and alcohol treatment centers.
Ardern has been involved with left-wing politics since her teenage years and once worked in the U.K. as a policy adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. She entered Parliament in 2008 at age 28 and when she took over the Labour Party, Ardern was the party's youngest ever leader. Her focus on student debt during her campaign helped her attract young voters.
English congratulated his rival and noted that the National Party "left New Zealand in great shape by any international standard." Despite losing the top position, the National Party grabbed on to more seats in Parliament than any other party.
Along with protecting the environment and tackling the housing bubble, Ardern has also expressed her goal to have women make up 50 percent of the Labour Party. “I have great ambition as a woman and as prime minister elect that we will make great gains as a government in issues like equal pay, in issues like supporting women in the roles they choose to take, whether they be work or in caring roles. ... I hold that issue close to my heart," Ardern said at a press event. Internationally, Ardern joins 13 other women across various continents who serve as head of their countries. Women lead less than 7 percent of the 193 U.N. member states.