UNLIKE most female politicians across the globe, who find it easier to remain in the limelight by projecting themselves as champions of woman rights or by adopting hard-line stance on contentious political issues against their male opponents, the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern is trying hard to build a different kind of personal brand image — much different than traditional so-called ‘feminist’ female politicians.
She has selected ‘children’ and ‘environment’ as key subjects to differentiate herself from other female counterparts in the global political arena. In less than a year after taking charge of her office, with the dexterity of a shrewd marketer, she has successfully attracted the world media attention. Her sincerity towards children and global environment is unquestionable and she has been working to the fullest of her ability to not only create awareness of these subjects but also take concrete and practical steps in her own jurisdiction.
During her recent visit to New York, where she had gone to attend the UN General Assembly meeting, has proved to be her ‘launch’ as a leader with a global appeal, aura and vision by consistently focusing on these subjects. Very few global leaders have shown such consistency on these subjects in recent times and this is certainly distinguishing her from the rest of lot.
‘If you ask me why I’m in politics, my answer will be simple: children’, she told the audience at Mashable’s 9th annual Social Good Summit on September 23. Similarly, on the first anniversary of the general election that catapulted her to prime ministership, Ardern spoke about one of her greatest passions as a politician: helping kids. ‘When I came into office, somewhat surprisingly, I did so with the single-minded determination to improve the lives of children in New Zealand. As one of our 12 priorities as a government we want to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child. Not to raise children, but to be a child’, she said proudly.
She has three-pronged approach to achieve this objective: reducing child poverty, improving the quality of education for kids, and implementing workplace policies that give children a chance to strengthen bond with their parents. Ardern who had her daughter in June became the second world leader to give birth while holding office and the first to take maternity leave. In 1990, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was the first premier who gave birth to her daughter but resumed the office the very next. After having first-hand experience of maternal leave, she has become even a more ardent advocate of more paternal time for newborns in those critical early days.
Despite having a week crammed with speeches, summits and associated events, her first sojourn in New York appeared more like a well-being retreat for her; she was a novelty, an intriguing political leader as a young woman with a baby, who speaks well and convincingly. She used her oratory skills very effectively to increase her fan following at the UN General Assembly session. Ardern’s New York agenda encompassed active participation in different summits on social good, world peace and climate change summits. It may incite a new controversy at home, but her announcement of New Zealand’s oil and gas ban at a key climate change event in New York has had a warm response. A roaring applause welcomed her announcement with regard to the ban and when she announced a $300 million boost to climate change assistance to hard hit Pacific nations.
Being the keynote speaker at the opening session of the Climate Week in New York, Ardern announced the extra funding to help support the ongoing drive towards environmental uplifting of the Pacific region. The $300 million package to climate change funding is being channelled out of New Zealand’s Overseas Development Assistance fund to support the so-called ‘Pacific reset’ with a concentrated focus on ‘practical action plan’ to help Pacific countries to adapt to swift climate change and build resilience. The package is commendable by all means; for example, providing logistical support for coastal adaptation to reduce the risks of coastal deluge, continuing efforts to strengthen water security across the Pacific, reinforcing on-going initiatives to provide community rainwater harvesting systems and establishing projects for desalination in the Pacific region.
In her impressive interactions with other global leaders, Ardern quite proudly propagated all the measures taken by New Zealand to meet its climate change commitments, including urgent action to support transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy. Interestingly, the contribution of New Zealand in global emissions is extremely small — only 0.16 per cent — but the manner in which she highlighted her country’s sincere efforts to share the burden of struggle to offset the regional climate change and work closely with its neighbours in this major initiative is certainly very inspiring for others. ‘This is not the time to apportion responsibility, this is the time to work across borders and to do everything we can by working together’, is how she stressed her case for the shared responsibility to prepare to face the challenges of the climate changes in the region.
Not only she ensured her nation’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, but also announced that her government was introducing an ambitious legislation, Zero Carbon Bill, that would be fully aligned with the Paris agreement’s objective for the world to become carbon neutral in the second half of this century. The fact is that despite being a relatively ‘novice’ on the world stage, in a very short time, Ardern has established herself as a global leader which is sincerely trying to promote the global social well-being and climate change — perhaps a very innovative move on her part to bring herself and New Zealand sudden attention of the world.
Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance contributor from Karachi, Pakistan.
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