Helen Elizabeth Clark was born in Hamilton in 1950. She attended Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland and then studied at Auckland University. She graduated with MA (Hons) in 1974. Her MA and PhD thesis research was on rural political behaviour and representation.
She was a junior lecturer in political studies in Auckland from 1973-75, studied abroad on a University Grants Committee post-graduate scholarship in 1976, and then lectured in political studies at Auckland from 1977 until her election to Parliament in 1981.
Role in Politics
She has been a member of the Labour Party's New Zealand executive from 1978 until September 1988 and again from April 1989. She has been the president of the Labour Youth Council, an executive member of the Party's Auckland Regional Council, secretary of the Labour Women's Council and a member of the Policy Council.
Helen Clark was a Government delegate to the World Conference to mark the end of the United Nations Decade for Women in Nairobi in 1985. In 1986 she was awarded the annual Peace Prize of the Danish Peace Foundation for her work in promoting international peace and disarmament.
In 1987, Clark became a Cabinet Minister in the Fourth Labour Government, first as Minister of Housing and as Minister of Conservation, then as Minister of Health and later as Deputy Prime Minister. From October 1990 until December 1993 Clark held the posts of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Opposition spokesperson for Health and Labour and member of the Social Services Select Committee and of the Labour Select Committee. After the 1993 general election, Clark challenged for the leadership of the Labour Party and became Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993. She led the Opposition during the National-led Governments of Jim Bolger (1990-1997) and Jenny Shipley (1997-1999), the first female prime minister of New Zealand (though not elected).
Prime Minister 1999-2008
On 27 November 1999 Helen Clark was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. Helen Clark is also Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, and has responsibility for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and Ministerial services. Her areas of interest include social policy and international affairs.
Her government introduced a number of policies that promoted gender equality: child tax credits in the Working for Families package, the introduction of 14 weeks' paid parental leave, and the Property (Relationships) Act, which treats property division after the breakup of de facto relationships the same as after the breakup of legal marriages.
She was appointed the new Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on 26 March 2009 by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.
Prime Minister Clark is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.