SEATTLE, Washington — Some of the best national responses to COVID-19 have come from Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany, Iceland, Finland and Norway. All of these countries have one critical thing in common: they are all led by women leaders. While some of these nations have smaller areas to maintain or are isolated as islands, these exceptions do not disvalue female world leaders’ exceptional COVID-19 responses. Germany, a large country covering approximately 137,847 square miles, is leading the fight against COVID-19, while female-led island nation New Zealand is significantly lowering its COVID-19 cases compared to other island nations like the United Kingdom.
How Female World Leaders Are Fighting COVID-19
On March 25, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, put her nation on strict lockdown. Ardern has been hosting Facebook Live chats with her constituents to keep them well-informed, hosting these chats often in the comfort of her own home wearing a worn-in sweatshirt after putting her daughter to bed. Her empathic, transparent approach to COVID-19 has allowed her constituency to trust her. With this personal approach paired with impactful policies, including the implementation of widespread testing, New Zealand has found great success in flattening the curve and has faced a death toll of only 22.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway used a similar approach, talking directly to her constituency over television stations, working to specifically reach children about the country’s COVID-19 prevention and maintenance measures. She even held a press conference where only kids were allowed, answering questions from children, explaining the virus and validating their fears. Furthermore, Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland has seen fewer deaths than most surrounding nations because of her creative use of social media to reach her constituency, encouraging influencers to spread accurate facts and information about the virus.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly told her nation the reality of the situation earlier on in the pandemic, fearing the virus could reach upwards of 70% of the population. In doing so, her constituents learned to take the virus seriously. She began testing immediately, and because of this, Germany faces a significantly lower death rate than surrounding European nations.
Additionally, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland is uniquely offering free testing to all citizens regardless of any symptoms they may or may not be having. This thorough testing has allowed the country to avoid lockdowns. Similarly, in Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen imposed 124 preventive measures at the first sign of the virus in January. As a result, Taiwan as well did not have to resort to national lockdowns. With a death toll of just seven, Taiwan also has had the most successful response to the pandemic of any country in the world.
Why This Matters
While only having a female leader does not imply a more prosperous country, the results of this global pandemic are indicative of something larger. It has become clear that the diverse and transparent approaches that the majority of these female world leaders used are more effective than the fear and avoidance tactics used by many male leaders worldwide. The presence of female leadership is not necessarily a signal of tremendous success but often an indication of more inclusive values and policies as well as more diverse leadership.
The traditional conception of a leader is one that embodies masculinity. This has made it challenging for women to be taken seriously in politics, not wanting to come off too aggressive or perceived as weak. COVID-19 has allowed female world leaders to prove that the traditional masculine approach is not always the one that works; in fact, an honest, decisive and diverse practice that is open to various perspectives has proven to be the most influential governmental strategy against COVID-19.
As a result of these exceptional leadership strategies and notable developments, the perception of what makes a strong leadership will be different in the aftermath of COVID-19. Strict, smart policies considered by a diverse group of people will be perceived to be the most effective, and honest and empathic communication between the government and constituents will be seen as crucial to establish trust and reduce fear among the public.
Global Importance of Female Leadership
These female world leaders proved that female leadership could be just as effective, if not more so than conventional male leadership. But beyond the political implications, these female leaders also demonstrated the importance of female empowerment. When the world begins to see how beneficial female leadership can be, this message will transcend political discourse.
Investing in female empowerment is vital to ending global poverty, as studies have shown that women with access to contraceptives are healthier, their families are more financially stable and their children are more likely to receive an education. Additionally, access to contraceptives can aid women in escaping the cycle of poverty. By helping women gain access to birth control, entire families, communities and societies can become healthier, more educated, and raise themselves out of poverty.
Moreover, in many developing countries, women are often told the only path they can take is being a mother and homemaker. In being told this, half of the potential contributors to the economy are taken out of the equation. But, when more women work, economies grow. Investing in female-led businesses boosts productivity and strengthens economies. According to the 2020 Women in Work Index, OECD member countries could increase their GDP by over 6 trillion if, for instance, their female employment rates equaled the rates in Sweden. Not to mention, economic equality for women helps diversify companies and increase organization and growth.
Ultimately, the success female world leaders have had worldwide in responding to COVID-19 sends a strong message to the world about what female empowerment can do. In this critical time, female leaders are not only fighting a global pandemic but succeeding in eradicating it in their countries. On a smaller scale, female empowerment can lift families out of poverty, strengthen local economies and keep communities healthier.
– Olivia Fish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons