Jacinda Ardern. Most of us had barely heard of her name before last week. And, today she is known pretty much across the world that follows the news. Ms Ardern is the 40
th Prime Minister of New Zealand, and earlier known for being the head of state who had a baby while in office.
A socialist, and a progressive, she is also the youngest female leader of a nation. From a quiet, peaceful part of the world – where there are considerably
more sheep than humans – there was nothing in her background, prepared her for what she had to face last week, and she came out of it exhibiting qualities of leadership that I believed was lost forever in the world – the ability to inspire people to reach within and be the best version of themselves. On March 15, an Australian born white terrorist, who was self-radicalised watching youtube videos from far-right white supremacist groups, walked into the Al Noor Mosque in Christ Church, New Zealand, and emptied his automatic weapon into the huddle of worshippers. Fifty people died. People who had come into to pray, and were defenceless, were murdered in cold blood, in a terror attack that left worshippers dead, many families bereaved, and a nation used to calm and peace – in a state of shock. But a nation is not marked by adversity. It is marked by how it deals with adversity – and in this, New Zealand has set a benchmark that is extremely high. And, that standard was in part set by the person who leads the country – Jacinda Ardern.
Her first comment on the shooting, that claimed the lives of Muslims who were immigrants from places as far apart as Somalia, Bangladesh, Turkey and , Afghanistan – many fleeing war and repression was “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence, which it is clear this act was.” She went on to label the perpetrator a “terrorist”. She made no allowance for the claim that he represented the white view, or was working for the ‘good of white people’. She saw him for what he was – a dangerous terrorist. And, a few days later, speaking before the New Zealand parliament, she vowed not to speak the terrorist’s name, and deny him the publicity and fame he desired. “That's why you will never hear me mention his name," she said. "He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
But, it is not just about her prompt and continuous communication to the people of New Zealand and beyond, on the terrorist attack, and its aftermath, where she committed to resolve not to let the terror attack divide people. It was also about the immense compassion and humanity shown in dealing with the shattered citizens of the Muslim community and New Zealand at large. She reached out, met, hugged, consoled, and shared the steeliness of resolve which said that they would not, as a culture, let a terrorist divide them, change them, and make them the worst versions of themselves. The government systems followed. And, the people of New Zealand responded as one. There are videos of people forming human shields when Muslims pray, there are videos of tattooed bikers from the country guarding worshippers, there is an outpouring of love and oneness. There And, that is inspired by genuine leadership.
It also tells you why there is a need for more women in politics. Maybe it is biology, maybe it is socialisation, maybe it is both – but women are natural builders of society, through compassion and healing. Even, the iron lady of India, Indira Gandhi could show compassion and tears, and not be considered weak. At a very basic level, - and this is part of the patriarchy that permeates all our societies, and impacts us all, especially men- people expect their male leaders to be formidable in the face of adversity, not show any of the qualities that are considered ‘womanly’ – compassion and healing being core amongst them. But compassion and tears are not weak, they are the adhesive that binds societies and people. And, while we spend the next few generations socialising young men to inculcate these values as values of strength, maybe it is time parties fielded more women in politics. That is not to say, women will not fight against violence or terror. We will. But, when it is over, we will also know how to provide the healing touch. And, that probably is what the world sorely needs.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersections of technology, media, and audiences.