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Supriya Vani in conversation with the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern.

"I never went into politics for the sport of politics, I went into it because it’s a place where you can make really positive change". Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with children
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with children

        Jacinda Ardern is the one woman head of a government who has eminently proved to the entire world as to what difference does it make when the head of a   government is a woman. The profound empathy which is an innate virtue of a woman naturally impels her to connect with the masses effortlessly. A woman head of a government generally is incapable of thinking of war and knows well how to defend the masses if war or warlike situation is thrust upon her country. Even a mother bird takes within its wings its young ones when she feels that they are threatened from an external danger. She indeed is my personal inspiration when it comes to compassionate leadership. Here is a short excerpt from my conversations with the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern.

Supriya Vani: Madam prime minister, I have special fascination for you as I find that you came to politics for the sake of children.

Jacinda Ardern: Yes.

Supriya Vani: I believe, it is only a woman who can strike chord with little children.

Jacinda Ardern: (Laughs) Yes, that has been, a real passion for me and probably in part that comes from some of my early experiences growing up. I lived for a short time in a town in New Zealand, where there was a high levels of unemployment, the area that had experienced privatization of the industry they were reliant on which was forestry. And so, I have a lot of early memories not about politics, but just simply about observing inequality. When you are a child, you view everything through the simplicity of a child’s lense and it just didn’t feel fair to me that, you know, that children were having those experiences through no fault of their own, and so that’s been a big motivator for me. I never went into politics for the sport of politics, I went into it because it’s a place where you can make really positive change, and I think underneath it all has you know,  helping children at large, is a significant motivation for me. If, you know, it could be as simple as just making life better for children because they don’t choose their circumstances, they just live them. So, that’s, yeah, that’s part of my motivation.

Supriya Vani: Yes, but don’t you think for this reason only, more and more women should really come into politics because there’re very few women heads in the world?

Jacinda Ardern: Yes, I do, I do and yet in New Zealand we’ve got the largest proportion of female parliamentarians that we’ve ever had and still we haven’t reached fifty percent. I look around my region, the Pacific region and we have some areas where there is no woman in politics, ah, and ask myself the question, you know, what is, what are the barriers? And, and there are things related to the system itself, and those absolutely, are obvious and need to be dealt with, so this, you know, there is those, systemic issues. But there is also I think, an issue that politics is perceived to be an ugly place, where, um, there are personal attacks, where you sacrifice a lot, for probably a woman’s perspective, and I am making assumptions here, but probably for what’s perceived to be little reward, because, you know, there are very few people who thank a politician and I understand that, I can see why. So how do we attract women, who don’t look, necessarily, and again a perception, who don’t seem as obviously motivated by power. To be motivated into, a profession where it seems to be the only selling point and so for me it’s about reshaping what it is to be a politician, and demonstrating that you don’t have to change your character traits, you don’t have to change your personality, that you can be motivated by a different set of goals, and that actually you can take a bit ego out of it as well. And so it’s modelling a different way of doing things. And my hope is that then more women will see themselves in this career.

Supriya Vani: Who has been the main emotional support in your childhood? And please share some of your memories which kind of shaped you as a person to become an empathetic leader in future? I would really love to know about your childhood, you know, how you felt, and what you wanted to become in future.

Jacinda Ardern: Well, interestingly, I never wanted to be a politician, but was really interested in politics, but I didn’t think that I would find a path into that place. There’re only 120 politicians in New Zealand and I’d only met one. You know, I was a teenager before I even met a politician, so it didn’t feel attainable to me. So, instead I was really motivated by jobs that always had a streak of wanting to help others. And, I was so everything from, I went through periods of wanting to be a psychologist, a police woman for a while, I thought maybe I‘d like to, to write, I went through a whole series of different aspirations, probably police woman and psychologist were two of the most significant. My earliest memory is of coming home from school one day having watched a school assembly where a clown came to visit and I remember sitting as a little child, I probably would have been maybe eight years old, watching this clown make entire school just laugh and be happy. And going home, and I kept a little journal, writing in my journal as an eight-year-old, that I wanted to be a clown one day because I wanted to make people happy. So, I think even though it’s been in many different guises that’s been one of my, obviously one of my guiding motivations. My ultimate role model probably growing up were always just my parents, my mum was a very generous person. She was always the kind of person who would, look after, you know people who were unwell in, in my neighborhood or in my church. At Christmas time, she taught me how to ice and make little miniature Christmas cakes for people, for our local aged care facilities, for those elderly, that didn’t have family. That was just the kind of person that she was, and so she was probably the person that taught me empathy and generosity. My father was a policeman and had to deal with really horrific circumstances and people in significant grief, he was a detective and he investigated serious violent crimes predominantly, and yet he always maintained a real humanity about him; never became hardened by any of those experiences and so they’ve shaped me, they’ve shaped me a lot.

Supriya Vani: Yeah, I understand, but still you are so different from the world, you have so much of empathy, and you know the world really looks up to you, so I am sure that you have a message for the young girls and women?

Jacinda Ardern:I, genuinely believe that all I’ve reflected in my leadership is a set of values, that are inherently New Zealand values, but perhaps, if I were to ponder a bit longer on that question, you know there are, there are traits, that are hard for me to distinguish between whether or not they’re traits, I have as a woman or whether they’re traits that are part of who I am. And, and I guess I think it’s hard for any of us to able to distinguish between those, what is it that I’ve learnt from being a New Zealander and being surrounded by a society that’s very focused on social justice and fairness versus what have I picked up by being a daughter and a mother. But my message to girls and women would be that empathy, compassion  and generosity are all important leadership traits, and that they should not be deprioritized against assertiveness and confidence,  because I think too often because we’ve had fairly consistent role models in leadership roles that have had fairly consistent traits we perhaps think that the personalities that we have don’t suit environments like politics, when that’s absolutely untrue, and I have said often, it takes courage to be an empathetic leader,

Supriya Vani: You always mention about leading with Empathy.

Jacinda Ardern: Yes, I think the world needs empathetic leadership now, perhaps more than ever.

Supriya Vani: Are you contemplating any role for yourself in world politics for securing a world of peace with equity and justice which is wholly demilitarized and a nuclear weapons free world?

Jacinda Ardern: Would you know, I think actually New Zealand has positioned itself in that leadership role. We’ve proudly declare ourselves nuclear free. We’re focused on continuing to support non-proliferation and denuclearization. And, so, really any Prime Minister of New Zealand, I think there is an expectation that you carry that mantle on behalf of the country, ah, particularly given our experiences with nuclear team testing in the Pacific. So it’s, that’s been the long-held value of ours. So for me personally, I’ve actually never viewed, my leadership role as, one where I, you know, where it’s necessary to carve out a particular space on the international stage, I think instead, ah, it’s just a matter of continuing to uphold New Zealand’s values which are prewritten and they are things like nuclear-free, they’re things like speaking out on human rights, about having an independent foreign policy, about being a diverse inclusive society and really supporting multilateral institutions. So actually countries like ours, the United Nations matters, having a security council that works, matters,  having trade rules for fair trade purposes, they all matter to us. And, so, for me, I feel like I’m taking on a fine tradition in foreign policy in New Zealand.

Supriya Vani: I would again come back to your childhood because I feel that, the building is, you know going to be huge and magnificent is known by the very first foundation. And I feel that you laid down the foundation of your personal larger than life, when you had instantly empathized in your own childhood. With the children on the streets of New Zealand without shoes on their feet or anything to eat. So how far do you think my statement is true, because you were born an empathetic person, that’s why you could observe all these things.

Jacinda Ardern: I would like to believe though, that, we can, that, that something that is still an inherent trait for all of us, ah, I just, you know. It’s about having the space to be empathetic and I think the more that we have situations, where our children and our young people grow up in circumstances, where they themselves are living in deprivation or are living in violence or are living with mental distress. How can we have an expectation that they demonstrate empathy and compassion for others when their situation and circumstances, circumstance, you know, are what they are. Ah, and so, for me, you know, making sure that children have their needs met is also part of ensuring that we can build an empathetic and compassionate society that’s inclusive and tolerant and diverse as well, because otherwise we breed resentment and we breed an insular approach, where people instead worry about their own needs, um, and understandably. So, that, for me, I had the privilege to be empathetic.

Supriya Vani: Yeah!

Jacinda Ardern: Umm, and it shouldn’t be a privilege. So that’s probably the two, you know, go in hand in hand.

Supriya Vani: It is refreshing to note that you know the Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir whom I interviewed recently and you are poised to ensure gender equity. So, she has made a law ensuring equal pay for women and men. You are also on record to have remarked that you will not rest until pay equity is achieved. So, how do you plan to achieve it? It is such a tough job all over the world.

Jacinda Ardern: It is, it is. Well, we’re starting; we’re starting with our own core government departments, but also our legislation, our framework. We did not believe was, fit for purpose to allow individuals to take claims, so we’re rewriting our laws, our equal pay laws. And, and also, as part of some of our recent pay negotiations with nurses and social workers, we’ve said we’ll go through pay equity processes, with those big work forces. So it’s literally been very hands on for us as a government and that’s been an important part of the work that we need to do. It’s not just rhetoric, its actually just getting on with the pay equity claims we had.

Supriya Vani: Well the whole world is paying you a standing ovation for your role in the aftermath of terrorist attack on Christchurch. You have established a very high standards in the, in the realm of empathy for suffering fellow human beings transcending all barriers of religion. It, it requires a heart of purest ray serene and Edenic innocence like you have. You have become world’s iconic figure. Kindly share your, you know, share your message for world peace, you know, what’s your message, how we can work towards peace and what we can do for it?

Jacinda Ardern: Sure, for me it’s, it’s an incredibly simple concept that so much of what we are responding to now is a global community is violent extremism and retaliation to violent extremism and it’s an ugly cycle that at some point, just has to stop and for me, the answer then in trying to cease that vicious circle, is an acknowledgement of some of the fundamentals of both our, all our various cultures and religions, and that is at the centre, simply our humanity, you know, so many of the different faiths that have been under attack, which have at their centre, at their core, teachings of peace, compassion and charity, and yet we see in the name of these religions, these, some of these, these different extremist moves and really we’ve just got to distil it back down to those principals of humanity, um, and those principals that actually sit at the core of so many, as I say, of, of our religions and our cultures, um, rather than seeing ourselves along division, ah and so, yes, sounds oversimplified, but I think really, you know, sometimes the most complex issues are simple in notion.

 Supriya Vani: After the terrorist attack, you declared that you will be making gun laws stricter in New Zealand. Don’t you think guns should be totally banned in the world to ensure a peaceful existence for the whole humanity?

Jacinda Ardern: Well, certainly I hold that view for things like nuclear weapons,  that’s something that New Zealand’s long held a view on, they were made for mass destruction, and for those guns that are made for essentially mass destruction as well, we hold that view too. So we’ve outlawing, banning military-style semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand and assault rifles. However, we are also, quite a rural nation, and so we use guns for legitimate purposes, pest control in particular, to protect our native flora and fauna, um, for animal welfare issues, so we do have legitimate gun use in New Zealand, what it’s been about us for us is trying to remove the use of weapons, where it’s blatantly accessing them is, um, potentially for the purposes of harming others.

Supriya Vani:  Who has been your main stay of emotional support in your childhood? Kindly share some of your childhood memories/incidents which shaped your vision as a child to become an empathetic leader in future? Was there a formative experience or event which spurred you on in your career?

Jacinda Ardern– Many people have inspired me throughout my life: my parents were always great role models who showed me how to be compassionate and caring, and I had some fantastic school teachers who taught me to think critically.

There is no one experience or event that I can point to and say, that’s what led me into politics, but I did always notice when things felt unfair. Of course, when you’re a kid, you don’t call it social justice. I just thought it was wrong that other children didn’t have what I had. 

Supriya Vani:  I find you echoing the emotions of Nobel Laureate for literature, Gabriela Mistral, Chilean poetess who expressed her concern for the children in such chilling words:

“We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
But our worst crime is abandoning the children,
Neglecting the fountain of life.
Many of the things we need can wait.
Right now is the time… his bones are being formed,
His blood is being made….., 
And his senses are being developed.
To him,  we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’.
His name is Today.”

  Do you share the Gabriela Mistral’s urgency for the cause of children?

Jacinda Ardern: This is an issue that is really close to my heart – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I first got into politics. Growing up I saw the effects of child poverty all the time – kids without shoes and without lunches, even in winter. They were short encounters for me but they left a lasting impression. Every child should be able to grow up and reach their potential without the burden of poverty. At the very least, children need a warm, dry place to call home, an education that sets them up for life, safe and supported families, and to be able to go to the doctor.

It’s my goal to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child, and we’re working hard to achieve this. We are already making big improvements – families now get a bit of extra money to help them pay rent, look after their children, and heat their homes. We have also passed a law which means that all governments from now on, including this one, will have to report back to the country how they are helping end child poverty.

Supriya Vani-What kind of obstacles do you feel a woman leader faces that a male leader may not? Have you seen a change toward women in politics since you began your career?

Jacinda Ardern -I’m lucky enough to be in a country where I’m not unique – I’m the third female prime minister – but there’s still plenty of work to be done. I’m really conscious that even if we look like we’re winning in the high places, we’ve got to think about all the other workplaces too. We have to be careful that we’re not complacent. Even having a female prime minister does not mean that you’ve achieved equality.

In New Zealand, women are still paid, on average, less than men, and there are fewer women in leadership roles (for example, less than 40% of our MPs are women). I don’t think this is right, and we’re working really hard as a Government to fix this.

Supriya Vani : The whole world is paying you a standing ovation for your role in the aftermath of terrorist attack on Christchurch. You have established a very high bench mark in the realm of empathy for suffering fellow human beings transcending all barriers of religion. It requires a heart of purest ray serene and Edenic innocence. You have become world’s iconic figure. Kindly share your message for world peace? 

Jacinda Ardern: Much of what we are responding to now as a global community is violent extremism in retaliation to violent extremism. It’s an ugly cycle that has to stop. One way to stop this cycle is to acknowledge our shared humanity that sits at the centre of our various cultures and religions. So many of the different faiths that have been under attack have at their centre teachings of peace, and teachings of compassion and charity. We need to refocus on the humanity that we all share.

Supriya Vani: After the terrorist’s attack, you declared that you will be making gun laws stricter in New Zealand. Don’t you think guns should be banned totally in the world to ensure a peaceful existence for the whole humanity? 

Jacinda Ardern: I certainly hold that view for things like nuclear weapons – they’re made for mass destruction. It’s the same for guns that are made for mass destruction, which is why our Government outlawed military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles in New Zealand after the Christchurch attacks.  However, we’re also a rural nation, and many New Zealanders use guns for legitimate purposes – for example, for pest control to protect our native flora and fauna.

Supriya Vani: How do you think terrorism can be curbed across the globe?

Jacinda Ardern: There is no simple answer, because there is no easy way to curb terrorism. However, one thing that I believe will make a real difference is stopping the spread of violent extremism through social media. The terrorist attacks in Christchurch saw social media used in an unprecedented way, as a tool to promote an act of terrorism and hate. We need to take action, which is why, in April, French President Emmanuel Macron and I co-chaired a meeting to discuss ways we can all help to eliminate violent extremism and terrorist content online. We also asked tech companies and world leaders to agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’ to help us achieve this goal.

It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism. If we want to prevent violent extremist content online we need to take a global approach that involves other governments, tech companies and civil society leaders.

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