Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is one of the most internationally loved leaders. She resigned the way she lead, with integrity, self-awareness, and strength. There are many lessons to be learned from her leadership, which can be used to inspire the next generation, including women and girls in Chiang Khong. As Katy Gallagher, the minister of finance, women, and public service of Australia said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
The first lesson to learn is to put empathy and kindness first, especially in a crisis. After the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019, she wore a hijab and shared messages of solidarity, saying “They are us,” while refusing to utter the name of the shooter.
In the government’s COVID-19 response, the first and most important message was to “Be kind.” This was written on motorways and in all government messaging. In a time when everything was changing, and people were being asked to do something they had never experienced before, a complete lockdown, this message kept kindness, compassion, and checking in on neighbors at the forefront.
The second lesson is balancing this kindness with strength and integrity. Seen in her sharp wit when dealing with opposition leaders, her quick action to firmly shut New Zealand borders to initially avoid lengthy lockdowns and have minimal deaths, and in immediately tightening gun laws in New Zealand after the shooting. While New Zealand, like many countries, struggled with the ongoing economic effects and lockdown several years later from COVID, she dealt with very vocal and intense criticism.
After five and a half years of leadership, she chose to resign on February seventh of this year, stating that she, “No longer had enough in her tank,” to be able to do the best job for her nation, and instead wanted to focus more on her young daughter, and family. This honesty and self-reflection are rare and refreshing in a world saturated with patriarchal and power-hungry politicians. She reminded us that politicians are human, and need support just like everyone else.
The impact of her leadership was felt around the globe, with praise pouring in from other international leaders following her resignation. Where politics is known for toxicity and self-interest, she was a ray of sunshine and hope; from bringing her baby to the UN general assembly to her quick comebacks and her honesty and humanity in addressing the public.
Her example shows that women in leadership can balance kindness with strength. It challenges the male dominant, overpowering, and abrasive leadership which divides and separates. Having more women in leadership who are encouraged to embrace these qualities will result in creating communities of equality and compassion.
We are actively supporting women’s and girls’ leadership here at the Center for Girls. One program which we run through Diankonia’s support is the Mae Ying Chiang Khong council and ethnic group leaders. This is a group of 244 women, including six village headwomen, who champion gender equality, run workshops with men and women in the communities, and work together for child protection and awareness of gender-based violence. The women are more confident and active in community leadership and participation; and play an important role in the health, society, agriculture, and economy of Chiang Khong.
– Aimee Vulinovich
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