Jacinda Ardern was awarded the title of dame on Monday for service to New Zealand, barely four months after ending her term as prime minister, during which she became the global face of a compassionate brand of liberal politics.
The accolade — Dame Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit — is the country’s second highest and was granted as part of an annual tradition of awarding honors for the King’s Birthday holiday. The honorees are usually chosen by the prime minister and approved by the British monarch, King Charles III, who is New Zealand’s head of state.
Ms. Ardern said she was “humbled” by the award and had initially considered declining it.
“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 in a statement, adding, “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 prime minister, who can now style herself as Dame Jacinda Ardern, was recognized in part for her role in the country’s response to the deadly terrorist attacks in the city of Christchurch in March 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic — “some of the greatest challenges our country has faced in modern times,” according to her successor, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Ms. Ardern, he said, had demonstrated an “absolute” commitment to New Zealand.
In January, Ms. Ardern, 42, said she would leave office, a surprise announcement that came nine months before a general election. She cited exhaustion as the cause, saying she no longer had the “full tank plus a bit in reserve” necessary for the role. The decision came as her center-left Labour Party was struggling in the polls.
Since stepping down, Ms. Ardern has continued to work on the New Zealand government’s response to online extremism and terrorism, in an unpaid capacity. She is also a member of the board of Prince William’s Earthshot environmental prize and later this year will start two fellowships at Harvard University.
Ms. Ardern joins her immediate predecessors as prime minister — Sir Bill English and Sir John Key — in becoming a member of the Order of Merit.
The country’s top honor, the Order of New Zealand, was awarded on Monday to Queen Camilla, in line with tradition in New Zealand. The members of that order, which is limited to 20 recipients, include two former prime ministers, Helen Clark and Jim Bolger.