Women are leading the way
Even as the threat of COVID-19 and the almost-global lockdown have had a terrible impact on the world’s women—heavier responsibilities at home and within the family, greater and hidden domestic violence, and even more onerous poverty—the crisis has also brought to fore the long-ignored capabilities of women not just to overcome hardships but even to lead their country on the road to recovery.
As of January this year, only 10 of the 152 elected heads of state were women, writes Leta Hong Fincher in a commentary for CNN. Men made up 75 percent of parliamentarians, 73 percent of managerial decision-makers, and 76 percent of personalities on mainstream news media. And yet in the middle of this current global health-social-political-economic crisis, women in leadership positions have led the way in ensuring the survival of their people.
In countries like Taiwan and New Zealand, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—all led by women leaders—early, strategic, and decisive actions were taken to keep the spread of the coronavirus in check and minimize the impact of such drastic measures as community quarantines, domestic lockdowns, and the meltdown of the economy.
Among the first countries to respond to news of the emergence of a new strain of a virus now designated as COVID-19 was Taiwan, a tiny island nation that shares a testy relationship with China, the source of this current contagion. President Tsai Ing-wen, back in January when China was still keeping news of the deadly virus under wraps and most other countries were in denial of its eventual impact, took steps “to block the spread without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere,” noted Forbes magazine. Commentators have commended Taiwan for instituting measures that are “among the world’s best” responses, keeping the epidemic under control with a death toll below 10. Tsai is even sending 10 million face masks to the United States and Europe.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, spared no words in warning her countryfolk about the coming pandemic, saying the virus could infect up to 70 percent of the population. “It’s serious,” she declared. And while the number of COVID-19 deaths in Germany has breached 4,000, the toll is still far lower than that in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
New Zealand was among the first to institute a lockdown, and even while there were just six cases reported, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand and eventually banned foreigners entirely from entering the nation.
In Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, free coronavirus testing is offered to all citizens. In proportion to its population, Iceland has already screened five times as many people as South Korea, itself a model of the effectiveness of testing in limiting the fatal effects of the disease.
In Finland, said Forbes, “it took a millennial leader” like Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest head of state, to use social media influencers to spread fact-based messages about COVID-19 and what people could do about the situation.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg even went a step further, using television to talk directly to her country’s children. She held a dedicated press conference for children where no adults were allowed, responding to children’s questions from across the country and “taking time to explain why it was OK to feel scared.” Asked an observer: “How many other simple, humane innovations would more female leadership unleash?”
It certainly helps to explain these women leaders’ bold, timely, innovative, and humane responses to the crisis to the fact that they are themselves mothers, wives, daughters, aunts. But as the British paper The Guardian put it, “being a woman doesn’t automatically make you better at handling a global pandemic… nor does it automatically make you a better leader.” However, what’s true, it added, is that “women generally have to be better in order to become leaders; (women) are held to far higher standards than men.”
And as these women leaders are showing the world, a lifetime of being underestimated and scorned, or belittled for being “emotional” and “sentimental,” is precisely the kind of preparation needed to ensure the survival of all in a pandemic without resorting to power politics and mindless machismo.
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