Covid-19 has tested the resilience of nations and communities and demonstrated the importance of effective leadership in moments of crisis. Over the world leaders in different capacities have stepped forward to steer millions of people through the pandemic. While the pandemic has dealt a big blow to the world, it has showcased the power of the feminine touch in leadership. Here is how some women heads of state have lead their countries through the pandemic:
Jacinda Ardern – Prime Minister, New Zealand
That New Zealand has recorded its first new cases of coronavirus for in 24 days - two people who arrived in the country from Britain- cannot take a feather from the premier’s cap. She had announced June 8 that the country had eliminated transmission of the novel coronavirus. This was after 17 days since the last new case was reported, and the first time since late February the country had no active cases. Ms Ardern’s handling of the pandemic has won her attention and admiration nationally and internationally.
The 39-year-old head of state has been seen as forging a path of her own, with a unique leadership style that displayed genuine concern and empathy in the middle of a crisis. “People feel that Ardern doesn’t preach at them; she’s standing with them,” Helen Clark, the country’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, told a journalist. One of her innovations has been frequent Facebook Live chats that have been both informal and informative.
The country was one of the first to enforce tough self-isolation measures, which later led to a complete lockdown. This saw a decline in the number of new cases, leading to an eventual containment of community spread. To date, it has recorded 1,506 infections and 22 deaths. The premier, who had begun to relax restrictions in May, said she was lowering the four-tiered lockdown system first imposed in March to its lowest tier, Level 1, removing limits on public gatherings and mandatory social distancing, but keeping the country’s borders closed.
Tsai Ing-wen – Persident, Taiwan
She was sworn in for a second term on the morning of May 20, she was effectively coming back to continue with a job she had performed well, after reporting no new case in about two weeks. Given Taiwan’s proximity to China, it was expected to be adversely affected when the coronavirus broke out in January. That didn’t happen, thanks to a quick response by Dr Tsai’s government, including a travel ban on visitors from China, Hong Kong and Macau. The government also anticipated an increase in demand for face masks and invested millions of dollars to create 60 new mask production lines, thus increasing daily mask production capacity from 1.8 million to 8 million. Additionally, the Taiwanese used data technology to help medical personnel identify and trace suspected patients and high-risk individuals. People under quarantine were given support in the form of food, books and a stipend.
Though not mentioned as much as it should by the World Health Organization for fear of wading into the politics of China’s territorial claim, Taiwan is a model in Covid-19 containment. Today it has just five active cases from the 443 ever recorded and only seven people died of the disease. She is close to declaring Taiwan coronavirus-free. On the other hand, neighbouring China has recorded over 83,000 cases and 4,600 deaths.
Sahle-Work Zewde- President, Ethiopia
Though, the only African female head of state, does not wield executive power, one cannot rule out her input in the country’s response to a pandemic. While Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has led resource mobilisation efforts through the National Resource Mobilisation Committee, the president has used her powers to pardon 4,000 prisoners in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Currently, the country, which has embraced testing and contact tracing like Kenya, has recorded three Covid-19 cases for every 100,000 people, compared with Kenya’s six.
Angela Merkel - Chancellor, Germany
While Germany has registered the tenth-highest number of coronavirus infections in Europe (188,044), its death rate has been much lower than in the other four European countries with the highest number of coronavirus infections. With five per cent of the infected succumbing, the country’s resilience is only outshone by Russia, which has just one per cent deaths. But many experts and journalists have cast doubt on the validity of figures from Russia. Italy lead with 15 per cent, followed by the UK with 14 per cent each. Experts have attributed Germany’s success partially to widespread and early testing for the virus, as well as the availability of more than enough ventilators. The relative success is not a cause for celebration at home as Chancellor Angela Merkel has cautioned that it is far too early to declare victory over Covid-19.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir - Prime Minister, Iceland
The country, under her leadership, has performed so well as to become a case study in the management of Covid-19. With a population of 341,000, it set off its campaign on the right footing, offering free testing to all its citizens and today has tested over 63,000 people, or a fifth of its population at a time when most countries have limited testing services for people with active symptoms and most at-risk groups. The country has also instituted a thorough tracking system, allowing it to keep businesses and schools open. Today, they have only three active cases out of the 1,807 recorded. Ten people have died, yet another tiny figure compared to the massive loss of life witnessed in Europe.
Sanna Marin- Prime Minister, Finland
She became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December in Finland at age 34. The millennial leader spearheaded the use of social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis. The government invited influencers of any age to spread fact-based information on managing the pandemic. With just 582 active cases from the 7,108 recorded and 326 deaths, the country is cautiously reopening.
Erna Solberg- Prime Minister, Norway
When the government closed many public spaces, including schools and parks, children were some of the most affected. has been doing all she can to reassure children that all will be fine. She has been answering children’s questions from across the country on their favourite TV channels and magazines. The country has only 217 active cases remaining from 8,647 recorded and 242 deaths. The prime minister has also showed concern for the rest of the world, especially the developing nations, by pledging that her country will give $1 billion (Sh78 billion) to support the global distribution of any vaccine developed against Covid-19 and for vaccines against other diseases, “This is a global problem that needs common solutions between countries, not least with distribution, so that everyone gets access to the vaccine,” she told an international news outlet.