Trailblazing Women Leaders Battling COVID-19
by Arya Roy

Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark. At first glance, it is difficult to find something that binds these countries together. But what these nations share is how their women leaders have demonstrated clear examples of true courage and organisation, becoming pioneers in governance by effectively managing a global crisis that has adversely affected national economies, put front-line responders at risk, affected large-scale industries, and most importantly, claimed human lives. However, the women at the head of these seven countries have excelled at controlling the spread of the coronavirus amongst their population, prompting the question: why aren’t more countries led by women?

When examining the measures enforced by each of these women, one can observe four prominent approaches towards governance adopted by them: honesty, determination, technology and love. Looking at the first approach, honesty, one can observe its elements in the actions of the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, who made the early decision to tell her citizens about the severity of the issue. Testing began almost immediately, with the government \conducting and supervising the largest-scale coronavirus testing program in Europe, overseeing 350 000 tests per week. This detects the virus early enough to allow the effective isolation and treatment of patients. With a population of approximately 8.3 million, Germany has witnessed more than 132 000 confirmed cases, but much lower deaths than other countries in Europe, and it has been suggested that the government might be able to start relaxing some of its restrictions soon.

The second form of governance we have witnessed is determination, coupled with an efficient and conclusive method making decision, a quality shared by Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Ing-wen was one of the first responders when news of the epidemic broke out in January 2020. Taiwan is off the east coast of China, claimed by Beijing as its own territory, and  is eschewed by the World Health Organisation. When looking at these facts, Taiwan should theoretically be extremely vulnerable to a pandemic that had emerged from mainland China. However, Ing-wen’s early and aggressive interventionist methods have resulted in only six deaths from the virus. Upon first hearing about the disease, all planes arriving from Wuhan to Taiwan were ordered to be inspected. An epidemic command center was established, consisting of a well-trained medical faculty and necessary medical equipment. In addition, all flights from Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China were restricted and travel was discontinued. These measures have been successful to such an extent that Taiwan is now exporting face masks in bulk amounts to assist the European Union and other countries.

Another leader who has been decisive and efficient when confronted by the coronavirus is Jacinda Ardern. She took the early decision to act early during the spread of the virus to completely cease tourism and enforced a national month-long lockdown when there were only six confirmed cases in the entire country. Despite recording over 1300 cases, the number of deaths has been limited to four. Moreover, while other countries are discussing the possible removal of national restrictions, Ardern is only adding more, allowing only front-line responders to continue with their work, while mandating all other citizens to self-isolate. New Zealanders returning from other countries are being made to quarantine in specially designated locations for at least a fortnight.

Thirdly, we have technology. The Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, governs a country of only 360 000 people. Under her leadership, coronavirus testing has been offered to all of the citizens free of charge. This large-scale, randomised method of testing could have significant consequences for the medical world, as Iceland’s tests have that concluded approximately half of the people who test positive are asymptomatic, which means that they do not show or produce any symptoms. The government of Iceland has screened nearly five times as many people as South Korea has, couple with a thorough and extensive tracking system which has allowed them to continue everyday affairs without the need of a nation-wide lock down or temporarily closing schools or offices.

Technology has also helped Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, whose mobility and zeal when confronting the virus has resulted in the country recording 59 deaths from a population of 5.54 million. At the age of 34, Marin is the world’s youngest leader, which has worked precisely to her advantage, as she has utilised the position held by social media influencers when confronting the crisis. Since not everyone either reads or has access to the press, influencers of any age in Finland have been asked to use their respective platforms to spread information rapidly to a large audience, engage the public, initiate communication, regulate and respond to false news, and create general awareness.

Lastly, we arrive at love, which has been used by both Denmark and Norway’s Prime Ministers, Mitte Frederiksen and Erna Solberg, respectively. They used the television to directly talk to and engage with their countries’ children and youth. Both conducted a press conference without the presence of adults, responding solely to questions from children, both reassuring them and reminding that is normal to feel afraid. Their unique approach to this crisis is original, innovative and most importantly, humane.

Although it is too early to definitively confirm which leaders have been efficient and competent enough to undertake and initiate the right steps towards both controlling the spread of the virus and saving lives, the examples above show how a large majority of leaders whose actions were early and decisive were women. Their styles of leadership involve empathy and warmth, aspects of the human nature which are not usually associated with governance. Years of activism and research has suggested that measures to lead countries adopted by women might be unconventional, but also beneficial. It is time for our society to realise we are in need of more women leaders, and we should allow an equal representation of both genders at all levels of politics and governance.

It is time that we recognised their merit, and elected more of them. 

Arya Roy

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