Experts React To Question On Prime Ministers Meeting ‘Because Of Their Age’
A question asked to New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to justify why she was meeting with Finland’s leader, Sanna Marin sparked debate around the world on Wednesday. The reporter asked, “[is it] just because you’re similar in age and, you know, got a lot of common stuff?”
Ardern, 42, responded with a rhetorical statement, wondering “whether or not anyone ever asked Barack Obama and [former New Zealand Prime Minister] John Key if they met because they were of similar age.” Marin, who is 37, addressed the question simply by saying, “we’re meeting because we are both prime ministers.”
The journalist’s question was denounced as sexist and was criticized for discussing the leaders’ ages. The question animated discussions regarding women in politics and how the two female heads of government are treated differently when compared to their male counterparts.
“If it were two young male prime ministers roughly the same age and similar in outlook, I don’t think that somebody would ask, ‘how come the two of you are meeting?’” Jarmo Sareva, Finland’s Consul General in New York City, said in an interview.
This is not the first time Ardern or Marin were questioned about their ‘fitness’ as leaders. In 2018, Ardern gave birth to her daughter just eight months into her first term as prime minister, and the media heavily scrutinized the details about her pregnancy and maternity leave. Marin’s role as PM was debated after a video of her partying was leaked in August 2022.
Dr. Suze Wilson, a lecturer on leadership at Massey University in New Zealand, called the question “embarrassing” for people in the country. “It is just tapping into this kind of deeply-rooted beliefs,” she said. Dr. Wilson went on to highlight how this reflects “misogynistic beliefs about how women should and should not be allowed to behave and what they shouldn’t be allowed to do with their lives.”
What’s been lost in the discussion is that Marin’s visit to New Zealand was historic – she is the first Finnish Prime Minister to ever visit the country. The premise of the question, which was that there is no reason for the meeting, shows misunderstanding of how diplomacy works, according to Sareva.
“It’s part of normal engagement between heads of government, prime ministers,” Sareva said. “I think that based on the two countries being even this far-flung from one another, sharing many values and being small, open societies, very much committed to the rule of law globally.”