Jacinda Ardern: Harassment of a Prime Minister

Jacinda Ardern was known as a leader who was characterized by understanding and empathy. Today, she has hardly any energy left and has decided to take the plunge and resign. The reason behind her decision was the terrible succession of denigration and harassment toward her and her family.
Jacinda Ardern: Harassment of a Prime Minister
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 22 February, 2024

Great political leaders accept that being criticized is simply part of the job. However, in recent years, the volume of violence and harassment suffered by many public figures has reached vitriolic levels. Indeed, in our age of social media, clickbait, and the need for new content to be posted by the second, the art of vilification and objectification has become a constant.

Something similar recently happened to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader when she won the 2017 election. A year later, we watched her go to the UN general assembly with her baby in her arms. In fact, she exercised her leadership through qualities of empathy and kindness.

“Be kind but strong” was the phrase she frequently used in her appearances during the coronavirus and this was how she tried to show herself to others. Consequently, she set an example of great resistance throughout her six years at the helm of her country. However, on January 19 she announced her resignation.

As she explained to the media, she no longer had enough energy left in her tank to continue. Days later, the media published the real causes behind her decision.

“… I am human, politicians are human. We give all we can, for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”

-Jacinda Arden-

Jacinda Arden
Jacinda Arden will be replaced in February. Gone are the days when ‘jacindamania’ spread throughout New Zealand.

The reasons behind the resignation of Jacinda Ardern

A couple of the most difficult moments that the Prime Minister of New Zealand had to face were the attacks in Christchurch, in March 2019. There were two terrorist attacks directed at different mosques in the city. 51 people were killed.

How Jacinda Ardern reacted to this disaster inspired the world. In her speech, she spoke of the inherent motives for the attacks, which were none other than racism, toxic prejudice, and hatred of Muslims. She insisted that they weren’t New Zealand values. She claimed that hers is a country that seeks to represent diversity, kindness, compassion, and respect for all who seek refuge in it.

Arden didn’t hesitate in appearing in a hijab before the media to later declare that legislation would be changed to create stricter control of access to weapons.

She always sought an emotional connection with others, achieving, with great success, a subtle and necessary balance between firmness and empathy. According to experts, she represented the real essence of female leadership. However, her figure and way of governing were the objects of continuous attacks.

A leader subjected to constant harassment campaigns

Before she won the 2017 election, former Prime Minister Bill English commented that Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t last and was like ‘stardust’. The truth is that she did. Moreover, she captivated many worldwide. It was thanks to Ardern’s effectiveness at handling crises that New Zealand managed the pandemic so effectively.

These events seem to confirm a study conducted by the University of Liverpool (UK). According to this research, women were far better at leading the pandemic. Yet, while this prime minister was inspiring in the way she handled domestic and international challenges, she was also subjected to constant pernicious background noise.

For example, the words of Gareth Morgan, leader of The Opportunities Party, became famous. He stated that Jacinda had to show she was more than just “lipstick on a pig”.That was only the beginning. In the last three years of her term, harassment situations reached levels that had never been seen before.

For instance, videos threatening her life and that of her family have appeared multiple times on YouTube. For this reason, the intelligence services were forced to deploy more security and protection mechanisms for her. Never before had they needed to intensify such measures.

The level of hate and harassment that the former New Zealand Prime Minister has received is unprecedented in this country.

Persecution, conspiracy, and death threats

There were two factors that increased the harassment campaigns toward Ardern: the regulation of the use of weapons and vaccination against the coronavirus. Police recorded 18 founded death threats against her in 2019, 32 in 2020, and 50 in 2021. Two men were ultimately arrested on these charges.

Last year, Jacinda Ardern had to deal with a protest in the Parliament Gardens. Protesters called for her execution. Later, she experienced harassment by a truck driver who threw misogynistic and vexatious insults at her.

The truth is that many of these situations could have been tolerable if she’d been the only figure in the spotlight of these groups. However, her family was also the target of threats and these were actions that were extremely difficult to tolerate.

The campaigns of violence and misogyny not only increased exponentially, but the level of threat against her physical integrity was very real.

Society must reflect

“So, of course, I feel, you know, sad, but also I do have a sense of relief”. These were Ardern’s words to the media after announcing her resignation.

She’ll likely have to spend a long time accepting and building a positive account of her experiences in the office. Hopefully, withdrawing from the public spotlight will restore the necessary calm she requires.

The experiences of this political leader should help us make a detailed review of where we stand as a society. While it’s expected that all public figures will be criticized for their management, this shouldn’t include death threats. Indeed, it’s normal for them to be judged on their decisions, words, and behaviors. But, it simply isn’t moral to denigrate a person for their gender or ideology.

Sadly, her case, as we well know, isn’t the only one. We can only hope that, at some point, common sense will reign over irrationality and reflection will rule over clickbait.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Garikipati, Supriya & Kambhampati, Uma. (2020). Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter?. SSRN Electronic Journal. 10.2139/ssrn.3617953.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.