A trend of women-led nations successfully subduing the coronavirus has gained a lot of attention, especially when many male-led major countries with advanced economies and healthcare systems have been flailing. What are the countries with women leaders doing differently?
One common theme is the swiftness of the response. Women leaders took the coronavirus seriously and did not underestimate the risks, unlike, say, US President Donald Trump. They also acted decisively, either with strict lockdowns or (in the case of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen) highly-effective testing and tracing programmes.
There are other factors at play here besides leadership. New Zealand, for example, is an isolated nation with a population spread out thinly over a large area, which makes containing the outbreak easier. Others such as Iceland can implement universal testing because of tiny populations.
Nations led by Women, on their way to beat COVID-19
In Scandinavian countries, Sweden alone took the much-talked about approach of placing economic considerations alongside the health risks of the pandemic. The Covid-19 figures for the country, headed by a male prime minister, stand in stark contrast to statistics of Finland, Denmark and Norway, all of which are headed by women: Sweden has recorded close to 5,000 deaths, whereas the other three nations have kept their individual toll to less than 600.
- New Zealand
Nurturing their citizens well yet, powerful
We should resist drawing conclusions about women leaders from a few exceptional individuals acting in exceptional circumstances. But experts say that the women’s success may still offer valuable lessons about what can help countries weather not just this crisis, but others in the future.
From Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to Finland’s Sanna Marin, Norway’s Erna Solberg, female leaders have reportedly fought COVID-19 outbreaks more efficiently than many others, registering lower cases and lower death rates.
“Not every woman has done well and got good results. But there are clearly absolute stars among the women leaders,” said New Zealand former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
“I think what differentiates them firstly is empathy, putting health and human security at the very heart of their response. They have been driven by values. It hasn’t been ‘We’ve got to save the economy.’ They’ve been wise enough to know you can’t save an economy if your people are ground down by a pandemic. They’ve stuck to a plan. They’ve listened to experts. They’ve acted on advice, using good judgment. They’ve communicated extremely well. They’ve engaged the population of the countries in a journey with them.
A full analysis of how these leaders succeeded under the unprecedented circumstances would involve several factors – including a more inclusive and diverse society backing them up – and it’s risky to generalize and say women leaders always perform better than male leaders in times of crisis.
Getting to the top is so hard to achieve for women, that once a woman reaches the leadership position she’s incredibly resilient and task-focused, says Clark. The number of female leaders across the world has grown significantly recently, but it is still very small. Most of the world’s nations have never had a female leader.