There are many lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and one of them might be how the world is desperately need of a greater number of women at the highest level of politics and governance. The reputed Forbes Magazine on April 22, 2020 depicts that women now govern 18 countries and 545 million people globally. That’s 7% of the world’s population. From Bangladesh and Ethiopia, to Georgia and Singapore, women are emerging into political leadership across the globe. In addition, from Germany to New Zealand and Denmark to Taiwan, women have managed the coronavirus crisis with aplomb. A number of countries with male leaders such as Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Greece, Australia, Malaysia have also done well but a few with female leaders have done badly. The implication is that a woman makes a better role than a man during a pandemic.
World Economic Forum noted that women comprise the majority of frontline healthcare workers globally, meaning that female representation is vital in tackling the coronavirus crisis. 70% of the world's healthcare staffs are made up of women, but only 25% of global leaders are female. If we examine about the true leadership in corona pandemic, we will get some revolutionary actions which women leaders are stepping up to show the world how to manage an inevitable human crisis of the history. Not only women leaders but also women who are in charge of ministry and executive posts of various countries have shown exceptional skills to mitigate and control pandemic.
Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, is the chancellor of Germany for third times and well known for her political role. Germany, with 83 million citizens, has had over 164,967 infections till May 03 but very low deaths per million (75) far lower than most other European countries, according to worldometers. The Guardian reported on April 11, 2020 that Germany has been hit hard by coronavirus, but it has an exceptionally low mortality rate of around 1.6%. Meanwhile, Italy’s fatality rate is 12%; Spain, France and Britain’s are 10%; China’s is 4%; America’s is 3%. A number of factors feed into Germany’s low death rates, including early and widespread testing and a large number of intensive care beds. A New York Times report explained that Germany’s relative success in fighting the pandemic is driven by large-scale testing, an emphasis on lab diagnosis, a “robust” healthcare system, and an alert leadership. Germany has so far recorded 6,812 deaths, a far lower figure than most EU countries.
New Zealand, led by Jacinda Ardern, is also a world leader in combating the virus. The country has only 20 deaths and infected 1487 cases whereas 95 deaths and infected 6799 cases in Australia till May 03 as per worldometers. Being an island state also gives it a distinct advantage. However, leadership is also a factor. New Zealand has implemented widespread testing and Ardern has responded to the crisis with clarity and compassion.
In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, the longest time Prime Minister, has taken huge action plans to mitigate and control pandemic in last five weeks. The Government declared a large economic scheme that is almost TK 10 million crore for the poor and under privileged people, farmers, Industrialists and Business enterprises. The government has declared lockdown many districts and cities. The test and collection of samples have been extended across the country and some intensive test units have been set up.
Bangladesh is one of the highest densely populated countries of the world. According to pandemic data site worldometer, the density of population in every p/skm is 1265 in Bangladesh. The government also returned Bangladeshi people from China, Europe, Middle East and India. Sheikh Hasina, as stated in the Forbes, harnessed tech, installing screening devices across international airports which screened some 650,000 people (of which 37,000 were immediately quarantined), something the U.K still isn’t doing. For her valiant leadership, Bangladesh is still comparatively in good condition than some other South Asian Countries. The highly accepted Forbes Magazine admires about the leadership of premier on April 22, 2020.
Tsai Ing-Wen, a former law professor, became the first female president of Taiwan in 2016. Tsai has eventually responded a swift and successful defence to the pandemic; despite Taiwan’s proximity to mainland China, it has possibility largely contained the virus and has just under 432 confirmed cases and only 6 deaths till May 03 as per record of worldometers. It is so well prepared that it is donating 10m masks to the US and 11 European countries. According to Reuters, the country has incentivised citizens to follow social distancing guidelines by offering noodles, goodie bags, masks, a stipend and free packages for gaming and online movies.
Singapore under President Halima Yacob and Hong Kong, China, under Chief Executive Carrie Lam have been globally admired for their highly effective lead in root out of the crisis. Now Singapore is scrambling with a third-wave phase with 18, 205 confirmed cases and only17 deaths, while Lam in Hong Kong has done better with 1,040 confirmed cases and only 4 deaths till May 03. Both countries have done well because of their leadership and quick sensible decision.
Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lock down or shut schools as noted in the Guardian. It has found 1,798 confirmed cases and only 10 deaths till May 03, according to Worldometers.
Sanna Marin (34) became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December in Finland. It took a millennial leader to spearhead using social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis. Finland's Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has an 85% approval rating among Finns for her preparedness for the pandemic, with 5,254 confirmed cases and only 230 deaths till May 03 in a population of 5.5 million.
Denmark led by prime minister Mette Frederiksen is doing noteworthy management in containing coronavirus. A study by the Imperial College London University argued that Denmark avoided a three-fold death by ushering in strict and timely preventive measures. As of May 03, the country has had 9,407 cases of infections, 6,889 recovered cases and 475 deaths as according to worldometers. Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the innovative idea of using television to talk directly to her country’s children. Norway has with 7,809 confirmed cases and 211 deaths till May 03. Georgia was lauded as a success story in the global fight against coronavirus. Under Salome Zourabichvili’s leadership, it was among the first countries in Europe to undertake effective measures. According to worldometers, Georgia has 589 confirmed cases while only 8 are deaths till May 03.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs of Saint Martin governs a tiny Caribbean island of just 41,000, but her no-nonsense video telling citizens to "simply stop moving" for two weeks has gone viral around the world. In Bolivia, Interim President Jeanine Añez was catapulted into leadership when President Morales fled the country last November. The Forbes applauded that she was putting the country into lockdown and passing a series of directives detailed in a dedicated Coronavirus. Namibia’s Saara Kuugongelwa was prioritizing preparedness to emergency health risks last year, long before anyone began talking COVID-19.
In India, the only successful State to combat corona is obviously Kerala, known for Kerala Model. The state’s health minister is one of the catalysts for this success, K. K. Shailaja, a woman being called the Coronavirus Slayer, mounted an early and aggressive response. In the same way, According to the Guardian, Jeong Eun-kyeong, the unflappable head of South Korea’s centre for disease control, has become a national icon after overseeing a “test, trace, contain” strategy that has made the country the world’s coronavirus role-model, with daily infections in single digits and a death toll of 250 as of May 03.
The World Economic Forum states an epoch making statement that there are a number of talented women playing critical roles. The US taskforce does have two women, including one at the helm. In addition, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC and Sun Chunlan, the most senior official leading on-the-ground efforts in Hubei province, are doing incredible work. These are women who keep great role to constrain the pandemic.
How women leaders can perform better in the crisis period like corona. The clues to this riddle might lie in a study published by the Harvard Business Review in 2019 which found that women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. “Women were rated as excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty,” it found. “In fact, they were thought to be more effective in 84% of the competencies that we most frequently measure (The Byline Times, April 9, 2020).”
The World Economic Forum rightly points out that we must build the systems to support women’s leadership in global health before the next disaster strikes. We can do this by equipping women with the skills, training and opportunities to rise to the top and advocating for systemic changes like closing the pay gap to change the face of global health leadership. As new COVID-19 cases emerge daily, we have no time to lose. Prioritizing women’s voices in the response will set us up for a more equitable, healthier future while saving lives today.
The writer is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service & Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni.