By Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern returned on Monday to Parliament to run her first Cabinet meeting, six weeks after giving birth to her daughter.
Ardern entered the Cabinet’s dedicated meeting room on the top storey of the Executive Wing of the country’s Parliament building, known as the ‘Beehive’, to applause from her ministers.
Taking her place next to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, she offered her “sincere thanks” to him for running the country, allowing her to become the first premier in the country’s history to take maternity leave while in office.
“The last six weeks have been wonderful not only because of the birth of our healthy daughter but because we have been gifted by this cabinet, by the people of New Zealand, this time together,” Ardern told her colleagues.
“It’s really, really nice to be back amongst you all and I actually mean it. Shall we get on with it?” she said.
The 38-year-old premier’s pregnancy was seen by many as a symbol of progress for women in leadership roles as she became only the second elected leader, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990, to give birth in office.
Ardern officially returned to work on Thursday from her home in Auckland and flew to the capital Wellington on Saturday where she was welcomed at the airport by singing from a high school choir. She held a short media briefing there with her daughter, Neve Te Aroha, asleep in her arms.
Ardern was accompanied by her partner Clarke Gayford and said they were spending the weekend setting up second-hand baby furniture at Premier House, the official Prime Minister’s residence which is a short distance from Parliament, according to video from TVNZ.
Gayford is caring for Neve full time and travelling with Ardern, who is breastfeeding.
Ardern last week outlined her areas of focus on returning to work as mental health, the environment, trade and the economy – including addressing plummeting business confidence, which economists worry could dampen economic growth.
She was set to announce more details of the Cabinet meeting and her policy priorities at a weekly press conference later on Monday.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)