Women leaders and the coronavirus

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

What do the countries that have had the best responses and least amount of deaths, due to the COVID19 outbreak have in common? They are all led by women.

Have women leaders handled this health crisis differently than the male leaders? Countries such as Germany, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Taiwan, Iceland and New Zealand are doing disproportionately better in handling this pandemic than the rest of the world. Why is that though? Is gender really a contributing factor? Is this actually a case of, “anything boys can do girls can do better?”

Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, acted right as this virus became known. She told her people to “take this seriously” and that it could “infect up to 70 percent of the population.” She holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry, so she is no stranger to scientific facts. Testing for the virus started immediately, as early as January. By late February, the country was already extending school and daycare closures and practicing social distancing. They limited travel outside of the country and began obtaining PPE to prepare hospitals for the worst. Germany has a much higher bed-to-patient ratio in its hospitals, which has contributed greatly to their low death rate. Due to the lag in test results, they believed that cases were much higher than the confirmed numbers. Immediately Germany expanded the number of COVID19 beds to 1,000. With Germany’s rapid response, they have managed to keep the mortality down to 1.2 percent as of April. 

From left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen.

Katrin Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, has been offering free COVID19 testing to all of Iceland’s citizens. Most countries have limited testing to people with active symptoms. Testing all citizens helps stop community spread due to asymptomatic people.  Iceland has under 400,000 residents and has screened five times as many people as South Korea. Now Iceland, of course, is a much more isolated and smaller country than the others affected, but the Prime Minister’s early response in wide-spread testing has kept their cases and death rate down. 

New Zealand’s leader, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, shut down New Zealand’s borders to visitors March 19. She also announced a four-week lockdown of the country on March 23, requiring all non-essential workers to stay home, except for essential trips such as the grocery store. The country has offered widespread testing, which seems to be a theme in all of these countries. 

Tsai Ing-wen, president of Taiwan, with an epidemiologist as her vice president has managed to keep their cases astoundingly low, considering population. There is a population of 23 million people and there are around 500 cases, with 6 deaths. They have been one of the only countries to be able to contain this without putting the country on lockdown. Travel bans and health checks started in January just as news broke of the virus spreading. Anyone traveling must use a “quarantine taxi” and be taken to a quarantine-specific hotel for 14 days. Travelers must also hand over their phones to authorities so that they can be tracked via GPS. Authorities will call to check and make sure you are following rules and regulations. This may seem extreme, but Tsai Ing-wen has managed to keep the economy open and her citizens employed. 

Why is it that these women-led countries have fared better than others around the world? Is it really because of gender? Do women and men act differently in times of crisis? Do women have a different style of leadership? They do face sex-based obstacles and have more to prove, being in a position of power?

Female leaders are more likely to be nourished and supported in countries with certain cultures. The Nordic countries have a strong belief for women’s equality, so they already have the citizen’s support and respect. Women naturally have more of a compassionate personality, which affects their responses in taking care of their people. It seems that these leaders have had more success gaining the trust and approval of their citizens. This is not to say that male leaders lack compassion, but they do have a different approach in ways of leading. Society expects men in power to be crass and “get the job done,” which can be seen as lacking empathy. 

An example of compassion gaining approval is New York’s Governor Cuomo. He has expressed emotion and empathy during this crisis and his approval rating has gone up to 87 percent. He has gained the trust of the people he is leading.

With the way these women-led countries have performed during this crisis, will there be more elected in the future? Is this a breakthrough for women in positions of power? It is being shown that you can be both emotional and strong while getting the job done. It is a powerful realization that strength and empathy are not conflicting attributes, but instead, are complimentary and what makes a true leader.

Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Submit your thoughtful prose on timely topics of interest for consideration to carolrobidoux@gmail.com, subject line: The Soapbox.

Renee Bouchard is a communications major at SNHU, lover of dogs, travel and Friday-night karaoke.