Opinion: Jacinda Ardern demonstrated the power of female leadership | CNN

Editor’s note: Kara Alaimo, Entering Associate Professor of Communication at Fairleigh Dickinson University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. Her book “This Feed Is on Fire: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Reclaim It” will be published by Alcove Press in 2024. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinions on CNN.


No wonder it’s burned. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who announced her resignation on Thursday after more than five years in office, has an extraordinary record of achievement.

Ardern, who took office at the age of 37 and led his country through numerous crises, saw a meteoric rise on the world stage. But his popularity has waned in New Zealand and on Thursday he said: “I don’t have enough in the tank anymore to do the job justice.”

Her example, from her swift response in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic to her resolution after the 2019 Christchurch shootings, should make the world reconsider its pervasive bias against women leaders.

Large numbers of people still subscribe to the stereotype that men are better suited for political leadership, and the list of countries that currently have a female elected head of state is depressingly short. This is amazing, especially since there is a lot of data to suggest that women are more effective leaders.

Under Arden’s leadership, New Zealand has had a remarkably low death rate from covid-19 compared to the rest of the world. Ardern’s quick decision to lock down his country in March 2020 made his early leadership in Covid one of the most successful in the world. (However, over time, many New Zealanders became angry and fatigued by vaccination mandates and strict covid-19 protocols and protesters ended up camping outside parliament for weeks and setting fire to furniture.)

Similarly, the day after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people in 2019, Ardern vowed to change his country’s gun laws. He followed through on that promise in less than a month, and the New Zealand parliament banned military-style semi-automatic weapons. Under his leadership, New Zealand also passed laws to combat climate change and address child poverty.

Of course, back home in New Zealand, “Jacindamania” has been fading recently, as the country faces significant economic challenges, including a rising cost of living and housing shortages. But whether you agree or disagree with his policies and policies, it’s clear that Arden accomplished many of his goals during a difficult time for his country and challenged our leadership stereotypes.

As a woman younger than most heads of state, she rose from relative obscurity to the world stage, where she often led with empathy. Notably, she also had a baby, becoming only the second elected head of state to do so while she was in office (Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto being the first). She took six weeks of maternity leave before taking the baby with her to work, breastfeeding and pumping, and discussed the challenges of balancing motherhood with her job. And now, with her resignation, she has also spoken candidly about her loss. These are all things we don’t often see from our politicians. Her visibility has pushed back the stereotype of leaders as older white men who don’t provide much visible caregiving or frequently discuss their personal challenges.

Of course, Ardern faced especially troubling challenges: 50 threats against her in 2021, according to police in her country, up from 32 in 2020 and 18 in 2019. Women politicians appear to face more threats than their male counterparts, another sign. . that the world needs to radically change the way women politicians are treated.

And contrary to a common misperception, women are often effective leaders. In a study published in 2021, researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of Reading compared countries led by women with countries led by men that were close in GDP per capita, population, population density, and population aged 65+. They found that Covid outcomes were better in countries led by women, which “may be explained by the proactive policy responses they adopted.”

A growing body of research also finds that women leaders often outperform men on other scores. For example, a 2013 study published in the Journal of International Affairs found that, across countries, female leadership was correlated with a 6.9% increase in GDP compared to having a male leader. In the United States, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Political Science found that women in Congress get on average 9% more money going to their districts than men in Congress. And a 2011 study in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law found that female lawmakers are more successful than their male counterparts in getting bills they sponsor through Congress.

On the world stage, Ardern’s gender was much talked about, both because he had his baby in office and because members of the media often focused on him. While Ardern sometimes felt these questions were unfair because men are generally not on the receiving end of them, one of the legacies he leaves behind is a powerful example of why so many people’s beliefs about women politicians are wrong. The next time voters go to the polls, I hope they remember that.

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