Baby or your country?

If telling your boss you’re pregnant is hard, imagine having to tell the entire country.

That was the reality for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has announced she and her partner Clarke Gayford are having a baby.

“I’m not the first woman to multitask. I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby.” - Ardern

However amongst the well-wishers and photos of a beaming Ardern on social media an awful-but-expected response started to creep in.

"She should resign,” read one tweet. 

A glimpse at the responses to NZ Opposition Leader Bill English’s post on Facebook confirms what women already know – many in society still believe you must choose between your career and having a family.

This mindset was anticipated by Ardern when she was first made leader of NZ's Labour party, then in opposition.

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She famously went head-to-head with The Block NZ host Mark Richardson when he questioned whether it’s okay for a PM to take maternity leave while in office. Obviously he hadn’t heard of Benazir Bhutto.

All women

Sadly, this is not just a topic faced by women in high-profile positions – it is faced by women in all industries at all seniority levels.

A 2014 report by the Human Rights Commission found 49 per cent of mothers reported some form of discrimination during pregnancy, while on parental leave or returning to work.

Almost a third - 29.9 per cent - said they sacrificed their careers when they gave birth.

Ardern is not the first woman to walk this path.

“I’m not the first woman to multitask,” she said. “I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but I know there are many women who have done this well before I have.”

Baby daddy

The idea a woman cannot have a family and a career is coupled with the idea the woman must be the one to look after the baby – another stereotype that Ardern is breaking.

Ardern’s partner Gayford will be staying home with their baby when she returns to work after 6 weeks.

Paternity leave levels in New Zealand are very low – in 2015 Statistics New Zealand revealed that of the 31,383 people who claimed paid parental leave, just 366 were men.

To have such a high-profile couple breaking this tradition will hopefully have a positive impact and will help to combat the stigma and prejudice faced by stay-at-home dads.

In any case the parenting decisions of Ardern and Gayford belong to themselves alone. However, I’m sure New Zealanders will be watching to see how the already groundbreaking PM and her partner become role models for modern parents.

Jemma Wight is bluenotes production editor

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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