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The leader of New Zealand’s Labour party was asked about whether she plans to have children after just seven hours in her new role.
A day after she replaced her predecessor, Jacinda Ardern was asked whether it was acceptable for a prime minister to take maternity leave.
“It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace, it is unacceptable, it is unacceptable,” said Ms Ardern on The AM Show on Wednesday morning.
“It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities,” she added.
The politician – unanimously elected the party’s second-ever female leader on Tuesday – directed the comments at AM host Mark Richardson, who had just said that voters in New Zealand had a right to know if their prime minister would be taking maternity leave.
He had asked: “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 OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”
The angry exchange, during which Ms Ardern pointed her finger at Mr Richardson, followed a more relaxed discussion about her family plans the previous day, hours after she was announced as Labour’s new leader.
On Tuesday, presenters of TV show The Project broached the topic more tentatively.
“I’ve got a question and we’ve been discussing today whether or not I’m allowed to ask it,” said host Jesse Mulligan.
“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?”
Ms Ardern responded calmly, saying: “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 the “dilemma” was similar to any other New Zealand woman balancing different responsibilities.
New Zealand goes to the polls for general elections on Saturday, September 23.
The Labour party hopes Ms Ardern can reverse its fortunes after polls showed support plummeting over the past six weeks to as little as 23 or 24 per cent under the direction of former leader Andrew Little.
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