WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday she is expecting her first baby in June, making her the country’s first leader to give birth while in office.
The 37-year-old, who took office in October, said the pregnancy was “unexpected but exciting” for her and partner Clarke Gayford.
“We’re both really happy. We wanted a family but weren’t sure it would happen for us,” she said in a statement.
The charismatic leader enjoyed a meteoric rise last year, winning office just months after taking the helm of the center-left Labor Party.
“We thought 2017 was a big year!” she tweeted.
“This year we’ll join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM and a mum while Clarke will be ‘first man of fishing’ and stay at home dad.”
Ardern said she would take six weeks off after the birth of her child, with maverick Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters taking the reins of office.
She said she would be “contactable and available” during the period and would resume all leadership duties when it was over.
Ardern, who did not reveal whether she was expecting a boy or a girl, said she and Gayford previously had doubts they could conceive.
“Clarke and I have always been clear we wanted to be parents but had been told we would need help for that to happen,” she said.
“That’s made this news a fantastic surprise.”
Ardern’s plans for a family sparked a sexism row during the election when a television host quizzed her on the issue, saying voters had a right to know before they cast their ballots.
She rejected the line of questioning as “unacceptable”, saying pregnancy and child rearing should not hinder women’s opportunities in the workplace.
“It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities,” she said.
Late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto is believed to have been the first head of government to have given birth while in office, when she had a baby in 1990.
‘More excited than election’
Ardern said “there’s no doubt times have changed” making it possible for her to juggle motherhood and a high-profile political career.
But she played down suggestions she was a trailblazer.
“There are plenty of women who have multi-tasked… in terms of being a woman in politics,” she told reporters.
“There are plenty of women who carved a path incrementally to make it possible for people to look upon my time in leadership and think ‘yes I can do the job and be a mother’.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered his congratulations on the “wonderful news.”
“When we spoke this morning you sounded more excited than you did when you won the election!” he tweeted.
“Lots of love and best wishes from me and Lucy and all of us across the ditch.”
Ex-New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, Ardern’s mentor early in her career, said her former charge was in for “a super busy year.”
“Every woman should have the choice of combining family & career,” she tweeted.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said Ardern’s announcement was significant for many women.
“That a woman can be the prime minister of New Zealand and choose to have a family while in office says a lot about the kind of country we are and that we can be -– modern, progressive, inclusive, and equal,” he said. AFP