The crisis opened by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide has put political leaders to the test and has shown a new reality: from Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, it is women who are excelling in the management of the pandemic.
If we also add what happens in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, we can say that this pandemic revealed that women have what it takes when things get complicated. At least, this was established by an article published in Forbes this week.
Someone might object that these are small countries, islands, or other exceptions. But Germany isn’t small, and if we compare it with the United Kingdom – governed by Boris Johnson – the latter is an island with very different results.
The truth is that these women leaders are giving us an alternative and attractive way of exercising power. But what are they teaching us?
On March 11, German Chancellor Angela Merkel got up early and calmly told her citizens that they were facing a serious problem that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It is serious,” she said, “you have to take it seriously,” she insisted. She did so, and the rest of the population followed her lead. The tests were done from the beginning, in bulk. Germany thus skipped the phases of denial, anger and lack of sincerity that we have seen elsewhere. And the result is in sight: the death and contagion numbers are below their European neighbors, and there are signs that they could begin to relax the restrictions relatively soon.
Among the first responses to the crisis was the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. In January, at the first sign that a new disease was emerging, it implemented 124 measures to block the spread, without having to resort to the full restrictions that have become common elsewhere. Currently, Taiwan is shipping 10 million face masks to the United States and Europe. Tsai’s management will go down in history as what CNN has called “one of the best responses in the world”, keeping the epidemic under control and reporting just six deaths.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, made the decision to impose the closure prematurely, and was very clear about the maximum level of alert to which she was subjecting the country, and why. It imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand astonishingly early, when there were only 6 cases across the country, and banned foreigners from entering soon after. Now, that clarity and determination are saving New Zealand from the storm. They had suffered just four deaths in mid-April, and Ardern has just ordered that all New Zealanders returning to the country be quarantined in designated locations for 14 days.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also decided to close her country’s borders, kindergartens, schools and universities early, and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. Surely that is why she has managed to control the infections, and that has been reflected in the numbers: a survey in early March says that 79% of Danes consider that they are doing a good job.
Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is making free tests of coronaviruses available to its citizens and will therefore become a key case study in determining the true rates of spread and mortality of COVID-19. Most countries have limited testing for people with active symptoms. By contrast, relative to its population, Iceland has already screened five times as many people as South Korea, and instituted a comprehensive monitoring system that helped them not even have to close schools.
Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December as Prime Minister of Finland. It may take a millennial political leader to implement the use of social media influencers as key agents in combating the coronavirus crisis. Based on the fact that not all Finns read the traditional press, influencers of different ages have become spokespeople when it comes to disseminating scientific information on the management of the pandemic.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg came up with the innovative idea of using television to speak directly to children in her country. It was a conference in which adults were not allowed. With patience and calm, the premier answered questions from children across the country, taking the time to explain why it was even okay to be afraid. Also the Danish premier Mette Frederiksen was widely praised for her frank speeches and clear instructions for the nation. She has even amused the population by posting a video on Facebook in which she washes the dishes while singing alongside the Danish poppers of the 1980s ‘Dodo and the Dodos’.
How many other simple and humane innovations would more female leadership trigger? Overall, the empathy and attention that all these female leaders have displayed seems to come from an alternate universe to which we have become accustomed.
Now, let’s compare these leaders and their attitudes, with strong-man-politicians, who use the crisis to accelerate a terrifying trifecta of authoritarianism: blaming “others”, controlling the judiciary, and demonizing journalists, among other things. According to Forbes, years of research have timidly suggested that women’s leadership styles may be different and beneficial.
Instead, there are still too many political organizations and companies that believe that to lead, or achieve success, women must behave more like men. This pandemic seems to have come to show that they are wrong.