Viral Photo of New Zealand Politician Cradling Baby Shows Need for Gender-Equal Policies
"Today a VIP took the chair with me.”
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."
Normally the Speaker’s chair is only used by Presiding Officers but today a VIP took the chair with me. Congratulations @tamaticoffey and Tim on the newest member of your family. pic.twitter.com/47ViKHsKkA— Trevor Mallard (@SpeakerTrevor) August 21, 2019
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.
Who needs to see this today? Every single last one of us, that’s who. Here’s a brand new papa holding his new born in our House of Representatives right now 😭❤️ pic.twitter.com/NU00SHfKFT— Golriz Ghahraman (@golrizghahraman) August 21, 2019
This is sending a great message that men👏can👏take👏care👏of👏babies👏 too. There's no need to be afraid of holding and feeding a baby. He looks so comfortable. Wonderul! 💖— Don't forget the Amazon (@JaccHiHey) August 21, 2019
This small action speaks mountains. 💖 from perth Australia.— changes! (@mah_matilda) August 21, 2019
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.
While we are kicking babies out of Parliament, a politician in New Zealand showed up in the House with his toddler and the Speaker temporarily took up babysitting duties. pic.twitter.com/rMAWAzdOd6— Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) August 21, 2019
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.
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%.