Jacinda Ardern delivers emotional final speech to New Zealand Parliament: "You can be a mother ... you can lead, just like me"
Jacinda Ardern's tenure as prime minister of New Zealand has both sparked inspiration and stirred controversy. But in her final address to Parliament on Wednesday, she made one thing clear: She wants both of those perceptions, and any others, to show that anyone can lead, "just like me."
Ardern announced her resignation as prime minister in January and had her last day in that position on Feb. 7 after more than five years as the country's leader – the youngest elected to the role in more than 150 years. She has served as a member of Parliament in the Labour Party since 2008.
And it was a role, she said Wednesday, "I never thought I was meant to have."
"I was a worrier. I anticipated that everything that could go wrong, would – some might say the worst possible character trait to have as a politician. Or the best, depending on how you cut it," she said. "While I convinced myself that you cannot be a worrier and be in this place, you can. You can be that person and you can be here. I'm sensitive, or as [former New Zealand Member of Parliament] Maggie Barry once called me, a precious petal."
Ardern's time as prime minister has served as one of inspiration for many women around the world as she was one of only a few women PMs and was only the second leader in the world to give birth while in office. She has strongly advocated for the rights of women and children throughout her tenure, and she took steps to protect the environment, including a ban on new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.
She also received global praise for implementing strict gun control measures after the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019 that left 51 people dead.
"I've become used to my time as prime minister being distilled down into a different list," she said on Wednesday. "A domestic terror attack, a volcanic eruption, a pandemic – a series of events where I found myself in people's lives during their most grief-stricken or traumatic moments."
A large part of the controversy during her tenure stems from her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Ardern started implementing strict rules on how the country would handle COVID-19 as early as February 2020, just weeks after the world started learning of the virus' spread.
Ardern said Wednesday that she can't determine what will end up defining her time as prime minister, but that she hopes she's "demonstrated something else entirely."
"That you can be anxious, sensitive, kind and wear your heart on your sleeve," she said. "You can be a mother or not. You can be an ex-Mormon or not. You can be a nerd, a crier, a hugger. You can be all of these things and not only can you be here, you can lead, just like me."
Ardern will remain a member of Parliament for now and has already started branching out into new initiatives.
Earlier this week, it was announced that she will be joining the board of trustees for the Earthshot Prize, an initiative led by Britain's Prince William to help find and award people who are creating solutions to tackle environmental issues and the climate crisis.
"Four years ago, before The Earthshot Prize even had a name, Jacinda was one of the first people I spoke to, and her encouragement and advice was crucial to the Prize's early success," William said in the announcement. "I am hugely grateful to her for joining us as she takes the next steps in her career."
The same day that was announced, New Zealand's new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he has appointed Ardern to be the special envoy for Christchurch Call, a group of governments and organizations working to "eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online." In that role, which will begin on April 17, she will report directly to Hipkins.
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