Women in British politics are no stranger to being asked pointed questions about their intentions to have a family (Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon being two cases in point) - and now the leader of the Opposition in New Zealand has had to slap down similar probing.
Less than 24 hours into her new role as leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party, Jacinda Ardern was asked twice about whether she had plans to have children.
Ardern, who is NZ Labour’s youngest ever leader, was appearing on The Project when co-host Jesse Mulligan said: “I’ve got a question and we’ve been discussing today whether or not I’m allowed to ask it.”
He then glanced at his female co-host Kanoa Lloyd, who rolled her eyes and laughed.
But he continued: “A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career or continuing their career … so is that a decision you feel you have to make or that you feel you’ve already made?”
Ardern responded: “I have no problem with you asking me that question because I have been very open about discussing that dilemma because I think probably lots of women face it.”
She said she did not consider herself different to any other woman who was juggling responsibilities.
But Ardern was questioned more strongly on the issue by panellist Mark Richardson on morning radio show the AM Show.
He said: “I think this is a legitimate question for New Zealand, because she could be the Prime Minister running this country - she has our best interests at heart so we need to know these things.
“If you are the employer of a company you need to know that type of thing from the woman you are employing... the question is, is it okay for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”
While insisting she “totally” accepts she will be asked questions about her own situation and is happy to answer, Ardern said the line of questioning for any other woman was out of line.
“For other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” Ardern said.
“That is unacceptable in 2017. It is the woman’s decision about when they choose to have children.”
“It should not predetermine whether or not they get the job.”
Richardson defended his statement, again pointing to the employer’s right to know. Ardern followed with the best retort in these circumstances, “Would you ask a man if they are likely to have kids in the future?”
He said yes.
Many commenters on social media expressed their frustration at the question being put to Ardern.
Ardern took over as Labour leader after her predecessor quit over “disturbing” opinion poll results, leaving little time to plot a strategy to break the centre-right National Party’s decade-long hold on power.
Comments about Theresa May being childless have come under fire in the past including a restaurateur who claimed she dropped key child obesity measures because she was not a parent and then-Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom’s suggestion that being a mother gave her an advantage over May.
The Sunday Times also faced huge backlash for running a feature on childless female politicians including Nicola Sturgeon, Justine Greening and Angela Eagle.