The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of all our systems. While many countries are doing everything they can to address this public health crisis, there’s no doubt that Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, and Taiwan have achieved huge progress in preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19 and all of them have a common denominator: female leaders.
While women hold only 7% of the world’s government leadership roles, they are proven effective in addressing the issues of their constituents. Even in positions in many industries, they are applauded. For instance, several reports suggested that banks led by a higher proportion of women and countries that enjoyed a higher representation of women in leadership, particularly in the financial sector, suffered less from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, this has prompted calls for a more balanced gender ration in leadership. In 2008, there was increased female board representation in big banks in Europe–from 15% to 33%. Today, women are being held up as role models on how to effectively address this pandemic.
Many experts have lauded their trust in science, swift action, and the ability to make difficult decisions with empathy and compassion. As a result, they have succeeded in minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on their countries. "These women leaders have been hailed as 'voices of reason' amid the coronavirus chaos," Amie Batson, the executive director of WomenLift Health, said.
How Female Leaders Address COVID-19 Pandemic
The actions of female leaders in several countries have been cited as supporting evidence that women are managing the crisis better than their male counterparts. “Women are always good leaders, no matter the state that they’re dealing with. In times of crisis, the leadership that they bring is indicative of how they lead. It’s really about listening, being collaborative, being non-partisan, being informed in terms of decisions that they make,” Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said.
In New Zealand, for instance, prime minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the shutdown of tourism and imposed a month-long lockdown on the entire country even before the coronavirus cases increased. This limited coronavirus casualties to 21, as of May 21. Ardern has urged her constituents to look after their neighbors, take care of the vulnerable, and make sacrifices for the greater good. Thus, public trust in Ardern’s government is greater than 80%.
In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen responded equally fast. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, she activated the country’s central epidemic command center in early January and introduced travel restrictions and quarantine measures. Mass public hygiene measures were encouraged immediately, including disinfecting public areas and buildings. Ing-wen also ramped up the production of personal protective equipment such as face masks and restricted all flights from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Meanwhile, Germany conducts 350,000 tests every week–the largest-scale coronavirus testing program in Europe. As a result, the country detected the virus early enough to isolate and treat patients effectively. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s periodic forthright reminders that COVID-19 was “serious – so take it seriously” reminded the citizens to follow public health measures in preventing the spread of coronavirus. The country has so far recorded fewer than 9,000 deaths, a far lower figure than most EU countries.
"Maybe our biggest strength in Germany ... is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population," Hans-Georg Kräusslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg, said.
According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, four of the five Nordic countries are led by women–countries that each have lower death rates from coronavirus compared to the rest of Europe. Iceland's Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has implemented large-scale, randomized testing of the coronavirus, while Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin pretty much did the same.
Meanwhile, Sweden, the only Nordic country led by a man, has reported an increasing death rate, far higher than in most other European countries. This is after Prime Minister Stefan Löfven refused to impose a lockdown and has kept schools and businesses open.
Why Female Leaders Are Effective
Female leaders have become extremely effective in addressing the pandemic because they have adopted a human security approach to the crisis. This goes beyond the either/or political debate focused on the health of the population versus the health of the economy. They focused on the needs of potentially vulnerable groups including the elderly, children, and healthcare workers. Experts believe their approaches have been effective because they incorporate empathy and compassion, preparedness, and an ability to collaborate and listen before making policy decisions.
“We know women’s leadership tends to be more inclusive, tends to listen to lots of different diverse perspectives, tends to focus less on partisanship and focus more on where are the best practices and you can tell how important that is right now,” Andrea Gunraj, vice president of Public Engagement at the Canadian Women's Foundation, said.
By contrast, male leaders have used a harsher, more aggressive tone. They all likened this public health crisis to a war that must be won and the virus to an enemy that must be defeated. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, for instance, has ordered the police to shoot lockdown violators dead.
According to Stanford Medicine, an online site with medical and health news and features, women leaders ultimately know how to inspire their populations to make the necessary sacrifices to control the COVID-19 pandemic. "It looks as though women leaders have been able to motivate their followers," Zoe Marks, PhD, lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said. They defer to health and scientific expertise, communicate clearly by providing factual information, and transparently manage public expectations.
While women’s participation contributes to the prevention and resolution of conflicts, the lack of their participation undermines it. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, we must build systems to support women’s leadership in global health before the next disaster strikes. This can be done by equipping women with the skills, training, and opportunities to rise to the top as well as advocating for systemic changes such as closing the pay gap.