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COVID-19 Is Proving Women Have What It Takes To Lead

Countries with the most proactive response have one thing in common

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to test how the world’s most influential leaders respond to crisis, there’s one common denominator in those who have experienced the most proactive response so far: female leaders. From Taiwan to New Zealand, women are proving to the world how to manage an unpredictable situation with clarity and strength. 

While many may claim countries with low contraction rates are due to their size or “other exceptions”, these leaders are in fact offering up an alternative way of wielding strength in times of unprecedented uncertainty. With quick responses and personable messaging, it’s an attractive and welcome view of handling a global pandemic. 

Now results of a new study published by the World Economic Forum have proved just that, claiming that advantage comes with living in a female-led country. The study, done by economists from the University of Liverpool and University of Reading, found that female leaders had far quicker responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as varying leadership styles that resulted in better outcomes. 

The findings show that “outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women,” thanks in part to “proactive policy responses they adopted.” 

Earlier this year, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox broke down female-led responses into four main traits for Forbes. They included ‘truth’, ‘love’, ‘tech’ and ‘decisiveness’, and goes on to prove how each has trumped male leaders “using the crisis to accelerate a terrifying trifecta of authoritarianism”, which includes “blaming others” and “demonising the media” tactics, as opposed to taking direct action. 

Below, we’ve rounded up the female leaders proving just how effective they can be. Their responses differ greatly but offer the same overriding goal of flattening the curve and protecting their people. 

Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female president, has shown a sturdy composure throughout this global pandemic and is largely responsible for the island’s small number of fatalities. Ing-wen was one of the fastest leaders to move when the virus first began to spread, introducing 124 new measures to flatten its curve in January (before many countries had even recognised the global health crisis). Taiwan has also sent over 10 million masks to the US and Europe to help aid the growing number of cases. 

As of April 14, the country has reported 393 confirmed COVID-19 cases with just 6 deaths.


New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern 

New Zealand’s Ardern has been her usual composed self, clear but compassionate, quick to act yet warm and unifying; proving once again she’s a leader to be admired. The NZ Prime Minister was early to lockdown and crystal clear on the maximum level of lockdown she was putting the country under – and why. She was praised for quickly self-isolating those entering the country early, and when the country hit just 6 cases, she banned travellers entering entirely.

As of mid-April, they have suffered only four deaths, and where other countries talk of lifting restrictions, Ardern is adding to them, making all returning New Zealander’s quarantine in designated locations for 14 days. 

Ardern also announced that she, along with her cabinet and other senior members of parliament, would be taking a 20 percent pay cut in solidarity with New Zealander’s how have been hit with financial hardship due to the pandemic. 


Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Unlike countries that have been holding out testing, even for those showing symptoms of COVID-19, Iceland’s Prime Minister offered free testing to all its citizens. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea, per Forbes, and has created a tracking system that has allowed them to hold out on strict lockdowns, keeping employment rates steady and schools open. 


Finland, Sanna Marin 

Marin became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected as Prime Minister in December – and has since spearheaded a clever social media campaign using the country’s biggest influencers to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

At 2,176 cases in a population of 5.5 million, the country’s COVID-19 rates are still low compared with its neighbours, and most of the rest of Europe. The New York Times reports its health care system’s high state of preparedness includes an ability to tap into a national stockpile of personal protective equipment that it has amassed since the 1950s.


Norway, Erna Solberg

Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the innovative idea of using television to talk directly to her country’s children. Holding a dedicated press conference where no adults were allowed, Solberg responded directly to children’s questions from across the country, taking time to explain why the country had made its decision and ease the anxiety and fear triggered by the outbreak. 

While Solberg has remained tight on community gatherings and other restrictions, schools will begin to open in April. The country has seen 139 deaths with 6,686 confirmed cases. 


Germany, Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, took action early and calmly told the country that the virus was serious and would infect up to 70 percent of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” Her countrymen listened – proactively responding to government regulations and lockdowns. 

Testing began right away, and Germany jumped right over the phases of denial, anger and disingenuousness other countries have seen. The numbers are far below its European neighbours, and the country will begin lowering restrictions in the coming weeks. 

angela merkel

Denmark, Mette Frederiksen

While many European countries took time to respond to the pandemic, Denmark’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, closed borders in early March. A few days later she closed kindergartens, schools and universities and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. The country’s death toll stands at less than 250, with the number of patients being treated declining daily. 

Frederiksen’s been widely praised for her clear and concise directives, as well as showing a realistic portrayal of living with the new norm. The PM even posted a clip on her Facebook page doing the dishes while singing along to 80’s pop group Dodo and the Dodos during the nation’s weekly TV lockdown singalong – proving, she was in this with her country.  


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