New Zealand is a little country that delights in punching above its weight globally.
Over the last few days two monumental things happened here that are worthy of note. Firstly, a little New Zealand company (Rocket Lab) successfully put a rocket into orbit after a local launch. New Zealand are now officially in space.
Perhaps of equal or greater global significance though was the news that our Prime Minister, the world’s youngest female head of Government at 37, is expecting her first child in June. Jacinda Ardern has been Prime Minister since 26 October 2017.
As the first country to give women the vote back in 1893, it is kind of cool that 125 years later our third female PM will have a child while in office. She’s not married to her partner either and no one gives a damn. This isn’t a world first though. The late Benazir Bhutto gave birth to a child in 1990 while head of the Pakistan Government.
Ardern has indicated she is going to take just six weeks off in June and her partner will be the primary caregiver. As with any couple having their first child, she won’t be short of help and, like any organisation would, “we are planning how we will manage it as a Government.” They are a team and the wheels of Government won’t fall off while she is on leave.
While Ardern will no doubt be a great role model, New Zealand still has one of the lowest paid parental leave entitlements in the OECD at 18 weeks. Ironically, when Ardern took office she quickly announced an increase from 18 to 22 weeks from 1 July this year, followed by a further increase to 26 weeks in 2020 as part of Labour’s 100 Day Plan.
When I first arrived in New Zealand to work in 1997, there was no paid parental leave and we were grateful we had our first child in the UK where my wife had been fully paid for six months while on parental leave. Taking it to 26 weeks is another great step forward.
Inevitably there have been claims that Ardern has sold the country short by taking up the position of Prime Minister while knowing she was pregnant. She is not the first women to ever accept a job and then find out she was pregnant before she started it and she won’t be the last. Such is life. It doesn’t mean she can’t or shouldn’t do the job.
My very wise Twitter friend Shona Glentworth summed it up nicely.
That said, I have met many business owners who bemoan the cost of employing women of child bearing age and the supposed disruption and extra cost they cause when they have babies. I have also met and worked with people who won’t employ part-timers because they want school holidays off and leave early every day.
Sadly, there are still some very short-sighted and archaic attitudes around business in this country which is not always as progressive as we would like to think. I hope, if nothing else, Jacinda Ardern successfully manages to change some of those.
Donald Trump’s views on the pregnancy are not known, although one might imagine what they are. The US still stands alone in the OECD as the only country with no paid parental leave benefits which is scandalous. For a variety of complex reasons, it seems unlikely that will change any time soon.
I was going to say that I think it’s unlikely an unmarried woman of child bearing age could ever be elected President of the United States. But Trump got there, and little old New Zealand has made it into space. Let’s face it, nothing is impossible!
And to find out what rockets and babies have in common? Watch this lovely short video from Scientist Marcus Chown.