Everything continues to appear bleak as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread like wildfire, infecting over 2 million and claiming lives of over 1.5 million around the world. COVID-19 has not only caused public healthcare systems to crack but is the cause of the resultant economic crisis as well. With businesses, factories, offices and restaurants shutting down, people are currently in a state of panic and are trying to get by, praying and hoping for the crisis to end soon. But if we take a closer look, there has been an evident transformation in the global society where myths have been busted and realities reconfigured. The current pandemic has demanded world leaders to step up to tackle the situation, and one of the things that have emerged from the chaos is that the countries with the best and most effective response to COVID-19 have one thing in common — female leadership. But why and what does this mean for our ever evolving world? Abigail Post, an assistant professor of National Security and Political Science at Anderson University in Indiana, explains, “Women are often perceived to be soft or weak during crisis, which makes them more likely to be decisive and firm. Female leaders are also more likely to seek out expert advice and act with empathy during a crisis, this seems to be a unique leadership tactic and it does make you wonder what the pandemic infection and death rate would look like with more women leaders.”
CNN's Max Foster reports, “Many countries and territories led by women are being praised for their quick and strategic action against the coronavirus pandemic.”
Among the first and the fastest responses was from Tsai Ing-wen — first female to be elected to the office and the seventh president of the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan. In January, at the first signs of the outbreak, she introduced 124 measures to contain the outbreak without having to resort to a nationwide lockdown. Tsai managed what CNN has called “among the world’s best” responses. When the new respiratory illness began to appear in China, Taiwan started to monitor passengers flying in from Wuhan. In January, they established European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to follow protocols for travelers and implementing travel restrictions. Offices, factories and businesses started monitoring body-temperatures of the employees as a part of early testing. As of April 14, Taiwan has reported fewer than 400 confirmed cases.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland, ensured all citizens get free coronavirus testing. She said, “Because of the coronavirus, everyday life has become very different for both adults and children. Anyone who can stay home should do it all the time. Many children find this scary; I understand that well. It’s OK to get a little scared when so many big things happen at once.” Iceland randomly tested its citizens and quarantined suspected coronavirus cases. Large scale randomized testing of coronavirus has better results, as it is found by many nations around the world that many people who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Iceland became the poster country for a national COVID-19 response by having screened five times as many people as in South Korea. Mass testing has allowed the people of Iceland to avoid the people of lockdowns and follow their normal routine.
Four of the five Nordic countries are led by women, which have lower death rates compared to the rest of Europe. Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, is the world's youngest leader and she has an 85% approval rating among Finns for her preparedness for the pandemic, with only 82 deaths in a population of 5.5 million. “Marin has really stepped up,” says Eddy Hawkins, an American living in Finland and reporter for Finnish Broadcasting, “Her performance at press conferences and in parliament, has been just what works best for Finns — clear, concise, unemotional, but with an undertone of warmth.” Paavo Lipponen, Prime Minister of Finland from 1995 to 2003, says, “Sanna Marin is a one-in-a-generation natural political talent … the new government reflects a modern face of Finland that is more confident on the world stage. She is a very balanced person, focused on the job, with a human touch, but without populism.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to all Germans to show discipline, which will help in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Merkel has over a decade’s experience in running Germany and managing crises. "For someone like me, for whom freedom of travel and movement were a hard-won right, such restrictions can only be justified by absolute necessity," she said, "This is serious — take it seriously." Germany has now decided to ease the lockdown, becoming the first major European nation to lift the nationwide lockdown without the fear of triggering new cases. The country can return to normal with the help of mandatory precautionary measures such as mask-wearing in public and randomized testing.
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg closed public and private institutions amid COVID-19. She answered children's questions about the coronavirus pandemic and reassured them that it was a OK” to feel scared during the “special days” of the coronavirus outbreak. However, children of nurses and doctors, are still able to go kindergartens and schools. She also restricted entry of non-resident foreigners into the country to limit the spread. During her interview with Forbes she said, “This affects our everyday lives, our healthcare system and our economy. Many people feel that everyday life has been turned on its head. I thank everyone on the front line, in the healthcare system and everywhere else.” She added, “The country will not be able to close the border completely as Norway needs to import pharmaceuticals, food and other essential items.” In another interview with France 24, she addressed the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic in Norway and called for "stronger multilateral cooperation" and urged more countries to contribute to a multi-donor fund Norway created at the United Nations to help developing nations deal with the pandemic: “What this crisis and the pandemic shows us is that we are so interconnected in this world that we need to work together. There’s no way that we can handle this crisis without having a stronger international, multilateral cooperation,”
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said, "The Government has gone harder earlier with border measures compared to other countries, but even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters." She added, “Every New Zealander boarding a flight to return home will be required to undergo quarantine or managed isolation in an approved facility for a minimum of 14 days.” Her address to the nation was clear emphasizing that the precautionary measures are vital to contain the outbreak: “To be absolutely clear, we are now asking all New Zealanders who are outside essential services to stay at home and to stop all interaction with others outside of those in your household.” Ardern recently announced she and her cabinet will take 20% pay cuts for the next six months. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, New Zealand has identified over 1,400 COVID-19 cases but suffered only 11 confirmed death, as of April 17, 2020.
Prime Minister of Sint Maarten Silveria Jacobs said, “Simply. Stop. Moving,” while talking to the people in her video address. She advised her people to prepare as though they were to prepare for a hurricane but to avoid panic buying.
Women like Sanna Marin, Jacinda Ardren, Angela Merkel and Silveria Jacobs have proven that female leadership is better at managing the COVID-19 pandemic or, at least, we can see from the performance of countries with female leaders, that many of the misogynist myths in world politics are just that – myths! Director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Jennifer Curtin explained female leadership fighting against coronavirus in the following words: “We might think of this as a halo effect on some women leaders.” It might not be for certain but from the looks of it, female leadership might be the answer not just in the fight against COVID-19 but to most of the challenges that the world faces today. HH
*All figures are up-to-date at the time of publishing and are likely to have changed since.
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