Friday, January 26, 2018

Pregnant with power

I visit a massage therapist regularly to treat the occupational overuse syndrome I suffer as a result of spending a great deal of time at the keyboard. I imagine massage therapists have two types of clients - those who remain silent throughout the treatment and those who like to talk. I fall into the latter category and we enjoy conversations on a variety of subjects, usually about our interests in music, literature and even philosophy. This week we strayed into politics, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake.

My therapist expressed her delight at learning that the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was expecting a baby. She asked whether I shared her joy at the announcement. I responded that I was 'blasé' and that while I wished the Prime Minister and her partner all the best, I felt it didn't justify all the media acclaim it had received. I said further that I thought it would be very difficult for her to manage being pregnant and having a baby and the demands of the job, and that her determination only to take six weeks off seemed optimistic, given that every woman I know in similar circumstances has ended up taking considerably more time off work than they had initially planned. My therapist's reaction was as if I had said that all pregnant women should be chained to their beds for the entirety of their term!

It got me thinking about this whole business of Ardern being pregnant and I realised there is something about it all that makes me a little uncomfortable, but it took me a while to figure out exactly what it is. I wrote in this blog back in December of my concerns about the secret coalition agreement (which still hasn't been released) between Ardern's Labour Party and coalition partner New Zealand First. There was speculation at the time that the agreement covered, inter alia, what would happen when Ardern took time off to have a baby (i.e. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, whose party won just 7% of the vote, would become acting prime minister). The news that Ardern was aware that she was pregnant at the time of negotiating that agreement bears this out.

So what makes me uncomfortable is that our governing coalition saw fit to negotiate control of the levers of government taking into account Ardern's personal circumstances, but didn't feel the public needed, or had a right, to know. Why didn't they trust us to reveal this information earlier?

The entire media has been doing its best to convince us that Ardern's pregnancy is a very great thing for women and for New Zealand, but I'm not so sure. I think Ardern has put her personal interests ahead of the country and the power-hungry politicians in her coalition have gone along with it because it benefited them to do so. It may well be that Ardern can manage having a baby while being prime minister but the voters of New Zealand should have been the ones to decide that - and whether Winston Peters should be prime minister - not Ardern and her political cronies.

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