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New Zealand Labour boss rebuffs TV host's sexist question

New Zealand's new opposition leader says it is "totally unacceptable" to ask women if they're planning to have children. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern made the statement after being asked about her motherhood plans on TV.

On her first full day in her new job as the youngest leader in the New Zealand Labour Party's history and the second woman to fill the role, Jacinda Ardern found herself taking on media misogyny rather than focusing on her upcoming election campaign.

On live television, Ardern told cricketer-cum-chat host Mark Richardson that he went too far in inquiring about her family planning rather than her policies.

Read more: New Zealand opposition leader steps down ahead of election

Richardson had told Ardern that voters had a right to know her plans for parenthood. "This is a legitimate question for New Zealand because she could be the prime minister running this country," Richardson had said. "She has our best interests at heart, so we need to know these things."

The 37-year-old Ardern said Richardson's comments hadn't offended her personally, but "it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace." She said women would make their own decisions as to whether to have children and "it should not predetermine whether or not they get the job."

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'Retrograde debate'

On pop culture website thespinoff.co.nz, commentator Madeleine Holden called the fallout a "retrograde debate": "Asking Ardern about her plans to have children implicitly reinforces the sexist notion that a woman's primary role is motherhood, no matter how accomplished she is in other areas."

Even Prime Minister Bill English, whose New Zealand National Party Ardern hopes to oust in national elections on September 23, leaped to her defense. "People who are out in the public eye, I think, benefit from a bit of support rather than questions that are really only about their private business," English, a father of six, told reporters on Wednesday.

A nonscientific poll on The New Zealand Herald's website attracted more than 9,200 self-selecting respondents, with 65 percent of people backing Ardern, who could become the country's third female prime minister. In 1893, New Zealand became the first anglophone country to allow women to vote.

"Quite frankly, whether a woman intends on having children or not is none of their bloody business," said Jackie Blue, New Zealand's equal opportunities commissioner. "Oh, and by the way, it's illegal to ask those questions, as they breach the Human Rights Act."

Across the world, women have increasingly made headway in calling attention to casual misogyny - from sexism in the tech sector to gender bias in the arts. Even Germany's mainstream right-wing Christian Democrats have acknowledged sexism within their ranks

mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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