Speaking plainly, Britain’s COVID-19 response has been little better than a catastrophe. With over 42,000 deaths being attributed to the coronavirus this year, Britain’s record is amongst the worst in the world. As cases and deaths begin to rise again, serious questions are being raised as to how our government got this so completely wrong, and indeed, if we can trust Boris Johnson and his ‘crack(ed) Covid team’ to lead us out of this crisis when the country is already on its knees.
However, that is not to say Britain is alone in its less than subpar response; Spain has also been hit hard by the virus, with more than 848,000 cases as of this week. And of course, we can’t forget the United States of America, with their own President, Donald Trump, already bringing a whole new meaning to the recently-coined term ‘mask-ulinity’. Surely we weren’t surprised when he became the latest global figure to announce his own fight with the disease? (Don’t worry, apparently it was an even bigger blessing than his $750 tax bill.)
Of course, there were multiple ways to handle it better. Here, we turn to countries such as Germany, New Zealand and Taiwan. What do these countries all have in common? Firstly, they have elicited some of the best responses to COVID-19, with strikingly low death counts and infections.
Most significantly, they are all led by women.
From the start of the pandemic, female leaders were being seen to manage the crisis remarkably well. In an analysis of 194 countries, published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, author of the research, Supriya Garikipati, revealed that results indicated that “women leaders acted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities”. In New Zealand, Prime minister Jacinda Ardern promptly imposed lockdown, with the country just recently having eradicated its second wave and lifted restrictions. Across the globe in Germany, Angela Merkel took a direct and refreshingly honest approach; she expressed that we were facing our biggest challenge since 1945, and that it was to be taken “seriously”. They have recorded fewer than 10,000 deaths out of 316,000 cases. Perhaps most impressive of all, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen adopted 124 control and contain measures in weeks, so far avoiding a full scale lockdown and only suffering from seven deaths in total.
It cannot be denied, therefore, that around the world, women are leading the way in terms of the best coronavirus responses. Admittedly, it is important to remember that these are extraordinary times we are living in, and some might argue we should be wary of drawing any hard and fast conclusions about what this means for women in power going forward. Yet even before COVID-19 hit, research was suggesting that women are outperforming men in many qualities considered essential to leadership. A study conducted by Business Insider in 2014 analysed women and men’s differences by 16 different leadership competencies, including the ability to take initiative and display high integrity and honesty. The results found that women scored higher than men on 12 of the 16 competencies, with the statistical differences being significant in up to ten of them. And indeed, six years later, we can correlate these findings to our current female leaders and their approach to the pandemic. In March, Ardern expressed a wish that in this crisis, the people of New Zealand strive to look after not just themselves, but their neighbours and their community. This willingness to advocate for collaboration and teamwork in times of strife is one of the key competencies listed in the aforementioned study. Notably, it contrasts strongly with the approach in our own country, that is, to blame apparently poorly organised care homes for the first wave, and wayward students for the second.
Overall, as we eventually move into a post-COVID world, we should not be aiming for a return to normalcy, in which we forget just how capable our female leaders can be. The case has never been stronger for allowing more women to step into the limelight alongside their male counterparts on the global stage.
Image: Government House via Wikimedia Commons