Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'We need more female leaders like Ardern to make the world a kinder, better place'

Youngest head of state: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expects to be taken seriously. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Youngest head of state: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expects to be taken seriously. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a fascinating leader. She's a woman. She's young, different and unapologetically liberal. She didn't come from money or a political family. She consistently shows herself to be effective and thoughtful - but when it comes to our leaders, why should we settle for anything less?

Ardern recently unveiled the new budget - the first under her centre-left government - and one that concentrates on the "wellbeing" of New Zealanders, over economic growth or any other priorities.

When she stood before the United Nations last year asking for more kindness in politics, Ardern promised New Zealand as a country would be one where "success is measured not only by the nation's GDP, but by better lives lived by its people".

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She has followed this through and her first-of-its-kind budget moves away from traditional features like tax cuts and instead focuses on spending shaped by what's best for people.

A budget centred on people is unique - especially when it feels like our Government just takes and takes from us without us ever seeing any benefits from the taxes we pay.

Before you fall around the floor laughing at the idea of a wellbeing budget, remember economics affects our mental health. A national survey by Amarach Research and mental health technology company SilverCloud found more than half of Irish people reported a decline in their mental health as a result of the economic crash and out of those, 14pc said they had thought about suicide.

It isn't just about budgets with Ardern, though. In the days after the attack that left 50 dead at two mosques in Christchurch, she showed compassion and strong leadership. She was the perfect antidote to Trump and his inconsiderate and clumsy response in similar circumstances.

After her daughter was born last summer, Ardern handed over power to her deputy prime minister for six weeks as she went on maternity leave, a move applauded by working women everywhere. She showed us she was expecting to be taken seriously while also being a mom.

At 38, Ardern is the world's youngest female head of state. No doubt her age and gender have informed her progressive ideals and style of leadership. And looking at the recent macho posturing from the likes of Macron and Trump at the D Day commemorations last week, one thing's clear. The world desperately needs more young women in positions of power.

Having more women in charge is the only way to truly change patriarchal culture, from the inside out.

Here, we're still struggling to gender balance our politics, both female leader-wise and by how much male politicians outnumber women. Thirty-five women were elected as members of the 32nd Dáil, an all-time high. But women still account for just 22pc of TDs and 30pc of senators.

A record number of 566 women contested the local elections last month, up from 440 in 2014. They made up 29pc of candidates. In the end only 22pc of the councillors elected were women.

In Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council 48pc of councillors elected were women, but in Longford it was a shabby 7pc. There's still a way to go for parity in Brussels too. Next hurdle: The general election.

Political science research has found over and over again that women legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women. But according to research by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on women in politics, there's established and growing evidence women's leadership in political decision-making improves it for everyone.

But the IPU research found women in politics remain concentrated in committees that deal with social issues, education, health and family affairs. While these committees are important, women are often absent from debates on finance and foreign affairs. This means we have a lesser say in financial priorities and shaping national agendas.

Sadly, because women have never had a truly representative Dáil, we don't actually know what our country would look like if it was run by women. Although it's hard to imagine it could be worse than it is right now. If we'd had equal numbers of women and men in public office since day dot, perhaps childcare would be affordable and men wouldn't be paid more than women for doing the same job.

If there were more women decision makers, would we still have no hope of ever solving our homelessness crisis? If the Dáil actually reflected our country in terms of gender, maybe we could better tackle problems in our health service and real equality between men and women would feel less like a vanishing point on an ever-moving horizon.

Having women in Government is more than just optics.

We bring new ideas to the table. We create new ways of thinking and of working. We need to make that change now. A new model that tries something out of the box and allows politicians - women or men - to pursue person-centred approaches to policy issues is worth considering.

A role model like Jacinda Ardern is something that Irish - and global - politics badly needs.

Irish Independent

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