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Girls & Women

Viral Photo of New Zealand Politician Cradling Baby Shows Need for Gender-Equal Policies


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Gender equality will not be realized while unequal parental leave exists. When parenting responsibilities fall on women, it makes it harder for them to participate in the workforce and fuels outdated gender norms. Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which include action to ensure men and women can be both leaders and parents at the same time. You can join us by taking action here.

The Speaker of New Zealand’s Parliament, Trevor Mallard, has fed and rocked a legislator’s newborn child while presiding over a debate in the House of Representatives. 

Video and images of the heartwarming moment from the chamber have since gone viral — subsequently raising much-needed awareness about investing in family-friendly policies and promoting shared parenting responsibilities as a way to advance gender equality. 

Labour MP Tāmati Coffey and his newborn son Tūtānekai Smith-Coffey were welcomed back into parliament Wednesday following Coffey’s paternity leave. Coffey and his partner Tim Smith welcomed their child via surrogate in early July. 

Coffey said bringing his child to work was met with nothing but support from his colleagues.

"I've felt really supported by my colleagues from across the House," he told Newshub. "Babies have a way of calming down the intense environment of Parliament, and I think we need more of them around to remind us of the real reason we are all here."

It was clear Mallard was thrilled to have Smith-Coffey in the chamber, as he posted pictures on his Twitter account.

"Normally the Speaker’s chair is only used by presiding officers, but today a VIP took the chair with me,” Mallard wrote. “Congratulations Tāmati and Tim on the newest member of your family.”

Other MPs and people around the world likewise tweeted their support.

Smith-Coffey isn't the first baby to enter New Zealand’s parliament.

In 2017, Mallard amended rules to make the parliament more open and sensitive to the needs of lawmakers with young children. New Zealand’s own Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has also long brought her baby, Neve, to work. Ardern even made history by bringing Neve along during her speech at the United Nations last year. 

While it seems New Zealand is impartial to emergency child-care occurring in parliament — the same cannot be said for many nations around the world. 

Earlier this year, a legislator in Denmark’s Parliament was told by the Speaker she “was not welcome” with her baby in the parliament chamber. Just weeks ago, Kenyan lawmaker Zuleikha Hassan was forcibly driven from parliament for bringing her baby daughter to a legislative session. 

The viral footage has also raised awareness about the global gender imbalance in regards to paid leave.

A 2013 report into parental leave found that out of 186 surveyed countries, 96% offered leave for mothers — while just 44% offered paid leave to men. Men are also often discouraged from taking the available leave due to stigma or the threat of being demoted or fired.

Activists have long claimed paternity policies aimed solely at women fuel outdated domestic norms and hinder gender equality. Until progressive and equal paternity leave is available for all, they argue, most families will be forced to put the bulk of caregiving responsibilities on women. 

Related Stories Aug. 7, 2019 Kenyan Lawmaker Ordered to Leave After Bringing Her Baby to Parliament
New Zealand offers partners just two weeks of paternity leave — while mothers, as of next year, can access 26 weeks.

The gender pay gap in New Zealand is around 12%.