Jacinda Ardern hits back at suggestion she met with Finnish leader Sanna Marin due to similar age

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at suggestions she and Finnish leader Sanna Marin only met on Wednesday due to their similar age. 

"I wonder whether or not anyone ever asked Barack Obama and John Key if they met because they were of similar age," Ardern said at a press conference. 

"We, of course, have a higher proportion of men in politics. It's reality. Because two women meet, it is not simply because of their gender."

Marin added to that, saying the pair were meeting "because we are Prime Ministers".

Marin became the first Finnish Prime Minister to visit New Zealand when she touched down in Aotearoa on Tuesday alongside other ministers and a trade delegation. 

She met with Ardern on Wednesday morning for a bilateral meeting, with their formal talks canvassing topics including Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, the rights of women and girls in Iran, the potential to enhance trade ties, and work on the Christchurch Call.

"The Prime Minister and I agreed that while our relationship as nations is warm, there is scope for us to deepen bilateral ties and we discussed how we could do so across a range of issues," Ardern told reporters in her opening remarks afterwards.

The role of female leaders and the rights of women dominated the nearly 20-minute press conference held in Auckland.

She said the pair had spoken about "what more we could do together in support of other women in other countries who are facing dire circumstances where we see the most basic of human rights repressed and violated".

"I think that shows a sense of responsibility that we feel given there are so few female leaders to make sure we use our voice on behalf of those who are experiencing such dire circumstances, and Iran is a good example of that."

Ardern said the pair are meeting again on Wednesday night and she expects that will provide an opportunity to "speak a little less formally about our experiences in politics".

Marin said Finland and New Zealand were among the first countries to give full voting rights to women. Finland allowed women to stand as candidates and vote in general elections in 1906, Marin said.

"It is not a coincidence that our countries are today one of the most advanced economies and equal societies in the world," she said.

Marin called the women protesting for greater rights in Iran "brave".

"I think we must stand together for equality and human rights and make sure every woman and girl all across the world will have the same rights, the same opportunities as men do. We have to make sure this will become a reality, not only the citizens of New Zealand or Finland or many democratic countries, but also all the other countries in the world."

Marin faced a misconduct inquiry earlier this year after footage emerged of her dancing and drinking in private with friends. Complaints were laid alleging she had consumed an excessive amount of alcohol, potentially meaning she would be unable to fulfill official duties if needed. However, the inquiry completely cleared her of negligence

In an emotional speech after the images became public, Marin said she too is "human" and longs for "joy, light and fun", but had "never missed a single day of work". She received support from people why Marin had to defend her right to party with her friends. 

At the Auckland press conference on Wednesday, Marin answered a question about whether young women have to work harder to avoid criticism of their personal life by saying politicians do need to be held to account.

However, she said it's also important to show anyone can be a politician and they can "be yourself and still engage in politics".

Marin said she doesn't focus on allegations she is a "party Prime Minister". 

"I focus on other issues. During our governmental period, there has been the global pandemic, there is war now in Europe, there is an energy crisis, perhaps an economic crisis, in front of us. 

"There are many things on my plate that are concerning many different issues than my free time, that are very spare."

Ardern said there is "huge potential" between the two countries which will be enhanced by the recently agreed New Zealand-European Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA). 

She said many New Zealanders would be surprised by the products Aotearoa imports from Finland, mentioning elevators and agricultural machinery. New Zealand sends wine and beef to the European nation, she said.

"We need to make sure that as nations we don't just simply go through the motions of an FTA ratification, but that as individual nations we look for the opportunities to build on that economic agreement."

Marin agreed the two countries should work together on trade and technology. 

Marin, 37, became Prime Minister in 2019 at the age of 34, becoming one of the world's youngest leaders. Ardern, 42, became Prime Minister at the age of 37.