Jacinda Ardern: A Leader can be Both Compassionate and Strong

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earned the respect of the global community for her response to New Zealand's worst-ever terror attack, with praise for her compassionate-but-tough style of leadership.

By Solange MOUGIN of france24.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earned the respect of global leaders for her response to New Zealand’s 2017 terror attacks with praise for her compassionate-but-tough leadership style.

She was the darling of the progressive left in New Zealand, her charm and magnetism easing her rise up the political ranks to make her the world’s youngest female head of government in 2017. But Ardern’s detractors always had one central mantra: criticism that she was all style and no substance and her empathy made her weak.

That criticism had no standing in the aftermath of the 15 March 2017 Christchurch mosque attacks that killed 50 worshippers during Friday prayers. The mix of compassion and political determination the 38-year-old prime minister displayed silenced her critics.

The morning after the attack, Ardern announced that, “our guns laws will change”. At a press conference in Parliament House, Ardern announced that her government was moving urgently to ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons as well as all assault rifles.

Flanked by flagpoles and dressed in a black blazer with her hair tightly secured, Ardern looked and sounded like she meant business.

“These changes will require legislation. That legislation is now being drafted and will be introduced under urgency. My expectation is that the law will be in place by the end of the next two weeks’ sitting sessions..” she said.

Compassion and cultural sensitivity

“Jacindamania” – a term coined shortly after she became head of the New Zealand Labour party in 2017 – reached new heights, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister winning worldwide praise for her handling of the national tragedy.

A day after the attack, when Ardern visited a Christchurch refugee centre to meet community leaders, she earned the respect of the Muslim world when she arrived in a hijab, carrying off the headscarf with natural poise, placed her hand on her heart, a traditional Muslim gesture, and said a simple, “Asalaam alaykum,” (peace be with you) as the grieving crowd murmured, “Wa alaykum asalaam,” (And peace be to you too).

A day after the attack, when Ardern visited a Christchurch refugee centre to meet community leaders, she earned the respect of the Muslim world when she arrived in a hijab, carrying off the headscarf with natural poise, placed her hand on her heart, a traditional Muslim gesture, and said a simple, “Asalaam alaykum,” (peace be with you) as the grieving crowd murmured, “Wa alaykum asalaam,” (And peace be to you too).

At a subsequent visit to a local mosque, her composure and empathy while meeting survivors was lauded, as was her insistence that New Zealand would remain a refuge for people of all faiths from across the world.

An Act of Terrorism by a White Supremacist 

Ardern labeled the mass shooting by a white supremacist an act of terrorism, and her pledge, to never mention the attacker’s name earned her the nation’s respect.

By taking on the country’s gun lobby, Ardern turned into an unwitting source of envy for Americans who have tried, with no success, to tighten gun laws following every mass shooting incident in the US.

Her response to President Donald Trump’s help to offer following the mosque attack also made headline news in the US media. In a phone conversation with Trump, Ardern recalled, “He asked what offer of support the United States could provide. My message was: ‘Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.'”

Vogue magazine dubbed her “the anti-Trump” in a cover story for being “young, forward-looking, and unabashedly liberal”.

Ardern Takes Baby Girl to UN meeting

Ardern’s leadership style also made headlines when she brought smiles across the assembly hall when she appeared at a UN General Assembly meeting in New York with her three-month-old daughter.

Ardern made history in New Zealand for becoming the second female elected leader to give birth while in office after the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.