On Jan. 18, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation ahead of a general election later this year. She explained her decision in a speech, stating, “I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have but also one of the more challenging. … I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility is to know when you are the right person to lead and when you are not.” She also added, “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple.”
By being open about her psychological state, she raised awareness about burnout, defined by the World Health Organization in 2019 as an “occupational phenomenon” that can take a significant toll on mental and physical health and is closely linked with depression and anxiety. Many high-profile professionals from different industries, from Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman to tennis star Naomi Osaka, have also come forward about needing a break due to burnout.
Ardern was the country’s youngest female leader in history when she became the leader of the Labour Party in 2017 at age 37 and was also New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years. Throughout her leadership, Ardern has been internationally praised for her strong commitment to progressive policies, efforts in combating climate change and her ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences. She has also inspired many people as a young female politician.
Despite her short tenure, Ardern left her mark as an influential and progressive leader. As prime minister, she managed many crises, including a natural disaster, a global pandemic and a terrorist attack. Following the extremist attack on two mosques, she wore a headscarf to comfort the Muslim community as she mourned with the families of the victims. She also banned the military-type semi-automatic weapons used in the terrorist attack. Ardern became a symbol of hope and resilience for many through her response to the national tragedy. Her successful zero-COVID policy during the pandemic has also been lauded as a model for the rest of the world. Her commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable society has also been widely praised. She has been a strong advocate for the rights of marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community and even became the first New Zealand prime minister to march in a gay pride parade.
However, some have criticized her handling of issues related to inequality, especially poverty and the housing crisis. Most criticism focused on KiwiBuild, a policy which was meant to deliver 100,000 affordable homes within a decade and ended up with only 1,365 built five years in. With inflation and the housing crisis, homelessness also became an urgent issue in New Zealand. Hence, her burnout has also been viewed as a cover-up to prevent losing her successful reputation in the upcoming election, under the current economic state.
Ardern challenged many prejudices and misperceptions about young female world leaders with her successes, crisis management and empathy. After a year in the office in 2018, she became the second world leader to give birth during her time in the office but was criticized for taking six weeks of maternity leave and adjusting her schedule for breastfeeding. She also came across sexist questions: When Ardern met Sanna Marin, the prime minister of Finland, Ardern was asked if they were meeting just because they were of similar age and had other things in common. Ardern answered, “I wonder whether or not anyone would ask Barack Obama and John Key if they met because they were of a similar age.”
Her resignation was also discussed from a sexist point of view in the media, including BBC’s headline, “Jacinda Ardern resigns: Can women really have it all?”
Despite these criticisms, Ardern has remained resolute and has continued to lead by example, demonstrating that women can be effective leaders and that gender should not be a barrier to political success. By challenging and defying stereotypes about female politicians and showing that women can succeed in high positions of power, Ardern has paved the way for future generations of female politicians. The legacy of her leadership as a politician, including her commitment to progressive politics, her compassionate leadership style and her ability to bring people together in times of crisis, has inspired many people around the world.