New Zealand’s pregnant PM: Political milestones for women
Wellington: News that Jacinda Ardern will juggle the prime ministership of New Zealand with starting a family was hailed on Friday as another milestone for women in politics.
Here are some of the others:
Women get the vote
New Zealand has a track record of being progressive on women’s issues — in 1893 it became the first country to give women the right to vote. Australia extended the franchise in 1902.
Major powers of the era followed later, with the US granting women the vote nationally in 1920. Women in Britain had to wait until 1928.
Women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time in 2015 at municipal elections.
Elected to parliament
Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana and leading activist, was the first woman to be elected to the US Congress, in 1916.
Despite being ahead of the curve with universal suffrage, New Zealand didn’t get its first female member of parliament (MP) until 1933, while Australia elected two women lawmakers to its national parliament in 1943.
The first woman elected to Britain’s House of Commons was Constance Markievicz in 1918, although as a member of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein, she did not take her seat.
First female prime minister
The first female prime minister was Sirima Bandaranaike, who was elected to lead Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1960. She only came into politics after the assassination of her husband, then-premier Solomon Bandaranaike, but became a dominant figure, serving three terms as head of government.
Since then, several women have occupied the biggest job in their respective countries, including: Margaret Thatcher of Britain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, India’s Indira Gandhi, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra.
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But yet again, New Zealand is a trailblazer in this respect — Ardern is the third woman to be the country’s prime minister, following in the footsteps of Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley.
Leaders who have had babies in office
Ardern will not be the first female head of government to give birth in office — that record was claimed by late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto when she had a baby girl in 1990.
On the campaign trail, Ardern, 37, had pushed back against questions about whether she intended to start a family, saying pregnancy should not affect a woman’s career opportunities.
Women in the majority
The number of women lawmakers has increased in recent years and currently stands at 23 per cent of all MPs worldwide — but female MPs make up over half of elected representatives in the lower houses of just two countries.
In Rwanda, 61 per cent of MPs are women, while in Bolivia the figure is 53 per cent, according to Swiss-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation that collects data from legislatures worldwide.
Children in parliament
Italy’s Licia Ronziulli was snapped with her six-week-old child in the European parliament in 2010, and has regularly been accompanied by her little person since then — to the joy of photographers.
Spanish MP Carolina Bescansa breastfed in her national legislature in early 2016, while the issue of juggling children and a political career hit the headlines in Australia last year when senator Larissa Waters became the first woman in the country’s history to breastfeed in the chamber.
That followed new rules introduced in 2016 to create a more “family-friendly” parliament in the wake of what was described as a “baby boom” among politicians.
Under previous rules, children were technically banned.
However, in more socially conservative Japan, a female politician was ejected from her chamber in November after bringing her baby into a meeting, sparking heated debate.
Yuka Ogata took her seven-month-old son to join a municipal assembly session in southern Kumamoto city, but other lawmakers asked her to leave — ostensibly because rules stipulated that only politicians, staff members and city officials were allowed to take part.