WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s new opposition leader Jacinda Ardern is at the centre of a second sexism row not even a month after taking the reins of the Labour Party and almost single-handedly reigniting its chances at a national election in September.
A minority party leader posted on Twitter that Ardern needs to prove she is not “lipstick on a pig”, prompting another outcry following furore when the 37-year-old was asked less than 24 hours after she took up the leadership role if she planned to have children.
Gareth Morgan, a prominent New Zealand businessman who founded the progressive Opportunities Party last year, drew ire on Sunday after making the comments during a Twitter conversation bemoaning Ardern as an example of the rise of politics driven by popular personalities, which he said distracted voters from policy.
On the same day, Ardern officially launched Labour’s campaign as she rides a surge in the polls just three weeks after her appointment, drawing comparisons to gamechanging international leaders such as Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
But Ardern’s tenure has already roused debate over sexism in the Pacific nation, which was the first in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893 and has had two female prime ministers.
Many took to social media over the weekend to accuse Morgan of misogyny. Some New Zealand women, led by a television presenter, posted photos of themselves wielding tubes of lipgloss accompanied by the hashtagged phrase ‘#lipstickonapig’.
Morgan said in a statement on his party’s website on Monday that his choice of words was not a personal attack and simply a euphemism for a “meaningless face-lift or makeover.”
Prime Minister Bill English, whose centre-right National Party has spent almost a decade in power, weighed in, describing Morgan’s description of his opponent as “deliberately appalling” and suggested politicians would now avoid working with Morgan.
Ardern’s response was more relaxed, telling reporters in Auckland she was “not particularly bothered by it.”
With Labour facing a crushing defeat at the Sept. 23 election, Ardern took over in the hope she could breathe new life into the party. Analysts saw it as a potential game-changer in a contest that until now had been seen as a slam-dunk for the ruling National Party.
Labour surged 13 points to 37 percent in a poll released last week, while the National Party dropped three points to 44 percent, setting the stage for the nationalistic NZ First party to play kingmaker. Morgan’s Opportunities Party held steady at 2 percent, well below the 5 percent threshold needed to gain any seats in Parliament.
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry