New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is fast becoming a feminist icon, as the world’s youngest female head of government and the second prime minister in history set to give birth in office. Dubbed by Time magazine as a ‘political prodigy’, she continues to break boundaries women are often subjected to. And now, an image representing everything she stands for has gone viral online.
This week, heads of government of the Commonwealth came together for a meeting at Buckingham Palace. For the occasion, during which Ardern met the Queen, New Zealand’s PM wore a traditional Maori cloak. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, with Ardern wearing the traditional garment to represent herself as leader of all of New Zealand.
According to Mark Sykes, guardian of Maori special collections at the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, the cloak is called a Kahu huruhuru, and was bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power. The cloak is adorned with feathers, with Sykes stating:
‘Cloaks are worn for warmth, protection and to symbolise your status and mana [power]
‘I think it shows how she is portraying herself as a leader of Māori, of all of New Zealand, of everyone. It made me feel proud. She wore it well. She wore it so well.’
The cloaks in modern day are made from the feathers of birds killed by predators or road kill, as many native NZ birds are endangered. However, in the mid-1800s, they were made from Kiwi feathers and were highly valuable, so much so that two of them were gifted to the Queen and Prince Phillip when they toured NZ in 1954.
An image of Ardern wearing the cloak alongside her partner, Clarke Gayford, has since gone viral for its subvergence of traditional gender roles.
Ardern has faced various forms of sexism during her political career, especially since announcing her pregnancy. However, this image represents the power she currently holds, against the odds, and in the current political climate gives young women the one thing they really need, hope.