Different approaches to managing the pandemic lead to vastly different outcomes across countries. Some, like New Zealand, have effectively eradicated the virus, while others wait anxiously for vaccine relief among rising infection rates. Looking at what went right in countries like Norway, Iceland, and Taiwan can help better inform approaches to future crises and help mitigate the tail end of the pandemic we are still facing. There’s one starting point that all these successful countries have in common: female leadership.
A curious trend has emerged as we analyze the pandemic: many of the countries with the lowest rates of infection per capita also have women at the helm of government. One study, an analysis of 194 countries published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, found that countries’ success in the face of the virus could be in part attributed to fast and effective action by female leaders. Even when accounting for country size and geographic advantages, the results held steady. Supriya Garikipati, co-author of the study told The Guardian, “Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities.”
Of course, leadership gender alone does not determine the virus’ course, but targeted mitigation strategies from female leaders have spared many countries from bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some of these policies.
New Zealand has been hailed as an example of pandemic perfection. Being an island does aid in screening travel, but so does recognizing the severity of a pandemic in its early days. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placed the country into lockdown far earlier than other nations and placed a self-isolation mandate on travelers coming to the country when there were just six recorded domestic cases.
Similarly, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen introduced 124 measures to block the spread of the virus in its early days and went on to send 10 million face masks to the U.S. and Europe where the pandemic was spiraling quickly.
Many of these leaders also used technology to their advantage in an equitable and effective way. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland offered free testing to all citizens, regardless of symptoms, from the get go and Sanna Marin of Finland implemented a targeted social media public health campaign to reach younger citizens who were more prone to travel and social gatherings and who might not read the news on a regular basis.
Many argue that the small or more isolated nature of countries like New Zealand and Iceland gave them an advantage in virus management, but even Germany, a large land-locked country at the heart of Europe fared far better than its British and Italian neighbors. Chancellor Angela Merkel took the pandemic seriously from day one acknowledging that it could infect up to 70 percent of the population without containment measures. Testing started right away and many lives were saved by her early recognition of the dangerous disease.
In addition to public policy decisions, many of these female leaders went above and beyond to connect to their people and generate a sense of cohesion in these challenging times. Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg held short press conferences where she spoke to the nation’s children specifically. She answered live questions sent in from children and communicated that it was okay to feel scared during this frightening situation.
It should be noted that these countries also implemented generous economic stimulus plans to encourage citizens to stay home and prevent the spread of the virus, reducing financial stress. New Zealand offered paid compensation to any worker staying home due to exposure, but also to those who were forced to miss work to care for a sick relative. Germany offered funding to restaurants and hotels, hard hit by the pandemic, which in some cases could make up 80 percent of their lost revenue from the past year. Taiwan passed their third stimulus package back in August.
As the pandemic continues, we urge all counties to look to these examples for guidance on what containment measures are most effective. No single stimulus package, lockdown, or public health measure can solve a pandemic, but what we saw from these female leaders was a sweeping and strategic use of a multitude of financial and public outreach tools to lessen the impact of this devastating year.