Anger after Jacinda Ardern is made to field questions about whether she might end up taking maternity leave in office
New Zealands new Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, has said it is unacceptable that women face questions in the workplace over their motherhood plans after she was asked on TV about whether she wants to have children.
Ardern, 37, was unanimously elected as leader of the party on Tuesday after Andrew Little stepped down less than two months before the election is due to be held. Little resigned citing three consecutive polls showing support for the opposition party at a disastrous 23-24% the lowest approval rating in nearly 20 years.
On Tuesday night, seven hours into her new job, Ardern appeared on TV show The Project and was asked by co-host Jesse Mulligan whether she planned to have children.
Ive got a question and weve been discussing today whether or not Im allowed to ask it, said Mulligan glancing at his female co-host Kanoa Lloyd, who laughed uncomfortably and rolled her eyes.
A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career or continuing their career so is that a decision you feel you have to make or that you feel youve already made?
In the past Ardern, only the second woman to lead New Zealand Labour, has spoken candidly about being wary of taking on senior leadership roles, including the prime ministership, because of the strain it can place on family and home life.
Ardern responded politely: I have no problem with you asking me that question because I have been very open about discussing that dilemma because I think probably lots of women face it. Ardern added that she did not regard her dilemma as any different from other New Zealand women juggling multiple priorities and responsibilities.
On Wednesday morning, however, the opposition leader bristled at The AM Shows co-host Mark Richardson after he said New Zealanders had a right to know whether there was a possibility their potential prime minister might take maternity leave.
If you are the employer of a company you need to know that type of thing from the woman you are employing the question is, is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office? Richardson asked.
Ardern, visibly angry, defended the right of New Zealand women to keep their child-bearing plans private from their employer, a position upheld by the Human Rights Act of 1993, which states it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a current or potential employee on the grounds of being pregnant or wanting to have children in the future.
I decided to talk about it, it was my choice, so that means I am happy to keep responding to those questions, said Ardern, who has in the past expressed the desire to have a family.
But, you, she said, turning her chair to face Richardson and pointing her finger directly at him, It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace, it is unacceptable, it is unacceptable. AM co-host Amanda Gillies applauded as Ardern went on: It is a womens decision about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.
The exchange and repeated questioning of Ardern over her plans for children sparked debate within New Zealand and accusations of sexism.
Many commentators noted that young male political leaders were never asked by the media about how they would balance a political and family life, though former prime minister Helen Clark often was.
Just watched Mark Richardson show his rage, his sexism, his lack of self-awareness, tweeted columnist Rachel Stewart.
Its not cricket, dude.
If youre wondering why the reaction to Jacinda Ardern baby q, its b/c NZ women have been reminded theyre baby makers first and foremost, tweeted journalist Frances Cook.
Others were similarly unimpressed, calling the questions faced by Ardern misogynistic.
Equal employment opportunities commissioner Dr Jackie Blue also weighed in on the matter, in a frank opinion piece for the Spinoff website.
Male hosts of two TV3 shows made it very clear to their audiences that they would desperately like to know what Jacindas intentions for her womb were, wrote Blue.
Quite frankly, whether a woman intends on having children or not, is none of their bloody business. Oh, and by the way, its illegal to ask those questions.