New Zealand has awarded Jacinda Ardern one of the country’s highest honours, making the former prime minister a dame for her service to the country during the Covid-19 pandemic and Christchurch terror attacks.
Ardern accepted the honour but said she had felt conflicted about doing so. “I was in two minds about accepting this acknowledgment. So many of the things we went through as a nation over the last five years were about all of us rather than one individual,” she said.
“But I have heard that said by so many Kiwis who I have encouraged to accept an honour over the years. And so for me this is a way to say thank you – to my family, to my colleagues, and to the people who supported me to take on the most challenging and rewarding role of my life.”
The former leader’s tenure was marked by a series of national and international crises, and the prime minister, Chris Hipkins, said the recognition was for her leadership during these “periods of intense challenge”. In particular, it recognised her response after a white supremacist gunman killed 50 Muslims at prayer at a mosque in Christchurch, and her pandemic leadership, which saw New Zealand achieve very high rates of vaccination and some of the lowest excess death rates in the world.
“Dame Jacinda Ardern is recognised for her service to New Zealand during some of the greatest challenges our country has faced in modern times,” Hipkins said.
“Leading New Zealand’s response to the 2019 terrorist attacks and to the Covid-19 pandemic represented periods of intense challenge for our 40th prime minister, during which time I saw first-hand that her commitment to New Zealand remained absolute.”
Since her surprise resignation in January, Ardern has kept a relatively low public profile. She has accepted a role as special envoy to the prime minister to continue work on responses to online extremism and terrorism; joined the board of Prince William’s Earthshot prize, which awards responses to environmental crises; and accepted fellowships to Harvard University.
The country announced its king’s birthday honours on Monday, a public holiday to recognise King Charles III. Also recognised was Queen Camilla, who was awarded a New Zealand order of merit for her support of the monarch. It is traditional in New Zealand to recognise the monarch’s spouse for their service.
The country gave out 182 honours in total, including three other dames, and three knights. Recipients included Māori leaders, sports coaches, doctors, journalists, arts advocates, business leaders and others.