Let’s begin with some stark statistics. 49.55% of the global population is female. Yet, the global participation rate of women in national parliaments is 24%. Fewer than 10% of countries are led by women.
The good news? Many of these women leaders are fast becoming household names (for the right reasons) due to their calm and creative handling of politics, including during the coronavirus crisis.
A recent Forbes article discussed the common denominator in countries with the best coronavirus response: women leaders. It highlighted how the approaches of Angela Merkel in Germany, Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland, Sanna Marin (the world’s youngest Head of State) in Finland, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark, and Erna Solberg in Norway are “gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power”.
Ardern in particular has been praised for her leadership style as well as for her proactive action in moving swiftly to lockdown her country (when there were only six cases) and making all those entering the country observe a strict quarantine regime. As a result of this decisive ‘elimination strategy’, New Zealand has had an extremely low number of deaths. Ardern’s proactive strategy is very different from the more reactive decision-making strategies many other countries are following.
While time will ultimately decide which countries emerge on top of the coronavirus league tables, the signs are positive that countries with women at the helm will have some of the best outcomes.
Women are often said to bring different leadership qualities to the table, and the Forbes article highlights the leadership lessons these women have been teaching us: truth, decisiveness, positive use of technology and social media, care, compassion – even ‘love’, demonstrating how these characteristics have been revealed through their words and actions.
These approaches can be contrasted with those displayed by some male leaders who have been stealing the Covid-spotlight recently: Donald Trump in the U.S., Boris Johnson in the U.K., Jair Bolsanaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladamir Putin in Russia. These leaders have been using the Covid-19 crisis as a power grab opportunity, and have gambled with the health of their citizens in the process.
Times of crisis can act as a focus for what is truly important, on a political as well as an individual level. Covid-19 has exposed the deep-rooted structural issues underpinning our social, political and economic systems. It has helped shine a light on many ‘silent pandemics’ which have been lurking below the surface: the public health emergency, the domestic violence epidemic, and poverty crises even in seemingly ‘rich’ countries. It has shown how we are emphatically not ‘all in this together’, with inequities of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality (among others) greatly contributing to vulnerability to, and experiences of, the outbreak.
Many different types of leadership are being modelled for us right now. This is a globally significant time to take stock and (re)evaluate – what kind of politics do we want to have post-this?
Leila Billing’s recent article, ‘What does Feminist Leadership look like in a Pandemic’, explores what feminist leadership can offer us: an intersectional focus (a recognition that ‘we’re only as safe – or empowered – as the most vulnerable among us’), which also aims to make the invisible (the silent pandemics, the power asymmetries, the inequities) visible. Billing emphasises the need to imagine alternative visions for our society, and to create cultures based upon mutual care.
Many countries have already begun implementing feminist foreign and domestic policies – this is something that deserves renewed attention as we rebuild post-Covid-19. The National Women’s Council of Ireland, for instance, has just published a Feminist Future Programme For Government document, calling on the next government to significantly invest in public services (including comprehensive public childcare) and infrastructure – an effort which deserves our support. This is not to say that all existing ‘feminist’ policies are perfect – far from it (many display inconsistencies) – however, they are a crucial starting point in imagining a more inclusive future for all.
The unique experience of women at this time can help to inform gender-proof Covid-19 solutions, and inspire a vision for a post-coronavirus society. It is essential that we celebrate the achievements of female leaders in their handling of this crisis, ensuring that care, compassion and creativity become the cornerstone of politics in the future.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
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