Ardern a great example of female leadership
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s unexpected resignation last week was a shock for many around the world. Ardern had become a figure with global respect and recognition. She had developed a niche for herself as an influential changemaker. Many admired her for her leadership skills and crisis management during her time as prime minister.
It was mainly for two reasons that she rose to fame globally. First, she was a woman prime minister in what is largely a male-dominated world. Secondly, she did extremely well as prime minister, proving many wrong who still believe that women are inherently incapable of delivering the same quality of leadership as men do.
Ardern’s remarkable premiership was testimony to the fact that womanhood and leadership can go hand in hand and the art of governing is not solely a masculine business. Despite significant progress in women’s involvement in the social and public domains and a paradigm shift in the way society views women in politics, there are still millions around the world who fervently believe that a woman’s first and foremost duty is to her family and home. A woman holding public office is still a taboo for millions around the world, especially in the developing world. Ardern, through her five-year tenure as prime minister, can speak loudly for women around the world.
Her COVID-19 management, which involved closing New Zealand’s borders to all travelers, kept the country largely safe from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. New Zealand is among the countries with the fewest COVID-19 deaths. However, this approach also earned her some criticism at home, as the economy might have been affected due to extended lockdowns and travel restrictions. But Ardern resorted to the toughest possible measures for the greater good of her country. Yes, women can be tough when there is a need to be, even though toughness is still seen by some as being mostly a male characteristic.
When two mosques in Christchurch were attacked in March 2019, with at least 50 worshippers killed, Ardern managed the situation excellently. Her message to New Zealand was very clear. It was one of inclusiveness and unification. It emphasized that the Muslim community was an integral part of New Zealand’s society. She reached out to the families of the victims, winning admiration from Muslims around the world for her sympathy, support and unifying role in a moment of growing Islamophobia.
Ardern’s decision to resign from office says a lot about her values in politics. What is typical of politicians is to cling to power and be desperate to win elections, even when their popularity diminishes. But Ardern chose to step down when she realized, in her own words, that she “no longer (has) enough in the tank,” implying she could be less effective in delivering for her country and people going forward. So, she decided it was the right time to go and let someone else in her party lead the country.
There is enough in Ardern’s time as prime minister and the manner in which she left office for others around the world to emulate.
When someone seeks election merely out of a lust for power without any superior purpose, it is nothing more than moral corruption. The purpose of power should be service to the people, while continuing to strive to change their lives for better. Being the head of a government is no ordinary job and, as the saying goes, with greater power comes greater responsibility. There is enough in Ardern’s time as prime minister and the manner in which she left office for others around the world to emulate.
While women are being systematically deprived of their just right to education and work in my home country of Afghanistan, in another part of the world a woman prime minister happily resigns with dignity after serving her people and country for more than five years. If Afghans are to learn anything from the global community, Ardern’s political journey — all the way from getting elected as prime minister to running her country with success and voluntarily ending her tenure — is a great example.
- Ajmal Shams is vice president of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party. He served as a deputy minister in the former government of Afghanistan. Twitter: @ajmshams