Research confirms female leaders’ success in COVID-19 first wave

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Reports throughout this world crisis have praised female leaders for their success in handling COVID-19.

Now the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum has published an analysis to back up this praise.

Professor Supriya Garikipati and Professor Uma Kambhampati concluded that female leaders were more successful, up to the 19th of May, because of their “proactive policy responses.”

“COVID-19 outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women.”

Garikipati and Kambhampati, who analysed 19 female-led countries and 174 male-led countries, did not just look at the total number of cases and deaths in female-led countries compared to male-led countries.

Their research used GDP, total population, urban population density, number of elderly residents, annual health expenditure per capita, openness to international travel and general level of gender equality. After taking all this data into account they still concluded that “COVID-19 outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by
women.”

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has been acclaimed for her reassuring Facebook Live Videos and her “going hard and early” approach which led to the virus first being contained in June.

The science-based leadership of Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, has merited similar praise, as it has given clarity to the German public on why the measures were being put in place.

Smaller female-led countries, such as Sint Maarten, also got the job done. PM Silveria Jacobs gave a clear message at the beginning of April: “Simply. Stop. Moving.”

Denmark’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen closed Danish borders mid-March and swiftly shut down schools.

Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway, made clear from the beginning that she was “letting scientists make the big medical decisions.”

In Iceland, prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir gave free testing to all citizens, regardless of whether they were showing symptoms or not.
Of course, there are some anomalies to this generalisation that all-female leaders have succeeded, the main one being Belgium.

As a woman, I rejoice in seeing other women being praised in the press for their formidable efforts. Women are strong and resilient. It should not come as a shock that they have been even more so in such trying times.

I would have expected this, especially when placed in comparison with male leaders like Donald Trump.

While the female leaders in the past couple of months have been clear with their measures and backed them up with scientific data, male leaders have tended to adopt a more chaotic approach, changing regulations day to day.
We have seen first-hand how Boris Johnson’s leadership has led to a relaxed population with no real sense of urgency when it comes to wearing masks and distancing among themselves. The confusion over why measures need to be continued has led to spikes and “covidiots.”

Trump was even more erratic with his leadership, giving no scientific evidence to support his suggested “cures” to the virus and showing no clarity in his strategy. This poor leadership has also been witnessed in Brazil, with president Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the virus as a “little flu.”

Although it could be argued that it is presumptive to present this as a gendered situation, there is a clear correlation between female leaders and a more successful response to coronavirus. Moreover, the research does suggest that this success was caused by more decisive regulations and earlier action, such as full country lockdowns.

In their paper, Garikipati and Kambhampati have presented various reasons as to why the evidence is showing female-led countries have fared better in this crisis. The main reason is attributed to the early lockdowns of female-led countries.

While some have argued that this supported the stereotype that women are more risk-averse than men, the authors of the paper argued the opposite, stating that although women were unwilling to take risks when it came to human life, they took huge risks regarding the economy due to early lockdowns.

Male leaders were perhaps less willing to take risks with their economies.

The authors also compare the differences in leadership style between men and women, suggesting that in this crisis female leadership styles have triumphed. Eagly and Johnson’s 1990 research is brought in, comparing the “task-oriented” style of men and the “interpersonally oriented” style of women.

The virus is far from contained, but the evidence is compelling: female-led countries managed the first wave of the pandemic better and more effectively than male leaders.

Seeing female leaders excelling is extremely encouraging for women and girls around the world. Conceivably this pandemic will call for a new surge of female leaders and a stronger, more united world, as a result.

Ana Hill Lopez-Menchero

Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons

First embedded image source: Wikimedia Commons

Second embedded image source: Delia Giandeini

Third embedded image source: History in HD