On the one-year anniversary of the general election that elevated her to power, 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,” she said, speaking alongside the executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore.
“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,” Ardern said. “Not to raise children, but to be a child.”
To achieve this goal, Ardern plans to focus on reducing child poverty, achieving quality education for kids, and implementing workplace policies that give children a chance to bond with their parents.
Ardern who had , Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, 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 by giving birth to her daughter, but returned to work the following day.
Ardern took six weeks parental leave, during which time Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, stepped in to cover her duties. And having experienced leave first-hand, she feels it’s essential for parents to spend time with their newborns in those critical early days.
“Unless there is a culture that accepts that mothers and children are part of our workplaces, we won’t change anything,” Ardern said.
“We recently went out and surveyed children on what they wanted if we were to establish a strategy as a government,” Ardern explained. “And their response was really stark for me.”
Rather than talking about a desire for “technological devices or skate parks,” she said the kids raised issues of poverty and wanting to spend more time with their parents and families.
“A child’s well-being is so inextricably linked with family’s well-being, and that came through so strong when we surveyed kids,” Ardern said.
In addition to wanting to spend more time with their families, she said many of the kids also wanted financial-related pressures to be taken off of them: “Things like not asking to play a musical instrument or join a sports team because they knew it was too much on their mom or dad.”
In the future, Ardern wants to continue working to give families, and particularly women, a sense of financial security.
“Giving financial security to mothers and families will inevitably flow into benefits for children,” Ardern said.
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