By Fionn McFadden.
“Simply. Stop. Moving.” That was the clear, unadulterated message given by Silveria Jacobs, the prime Minister of Sint Maarten, on the 1st April 2020 as part of the Caribbean island’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She went on to stress the important of preparation and resourcefulness knowing full well the possibility that the country’s comparatively minuscule healthcare system would collapse with a high infection rate. Despite the challenge that has puzzled the leaders of even the largest, most well-resourced countries, Jacobs has gained praise for her stern orders of physical distancing that saw the number of active cases drop sharply, almost having ground to a halt by June 2020, Jacobs joins a band of leaders whose calm, informed and decisive responses to the pandemic have been hailed as models for success by the media and international health organisations, keeping hope alive and kicking amongst many national psyches. This band of leaders all have one vital thing in common: they are women.
This therefore begs the question: are female leaders more effective in time of crisis, or even, are they more effective leaders full stop? The evidence from this pandemic arguably suggests so. After all, there is perhaps no better test of a leaders’ abilities to be resourceful , calm, adaptable and a unifying figure than an unprecedented health crisis such as this. Whilst not all nations with male leaders have failed in their responses to the pandemic (eg. Vietnam, Australia), yet few with female leaders have faltered. Amongst this troop of fearless female world leaders, which includes Erna Solberg of Norway, Tsai-Ing Wen of Taiwan, Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland and Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, two in particular have often received international media coverage throughout the 21st century for their responses to international and domestic crises alike, improving the quality of their citizens lives and ultimately getting things done.
The first is a rising star of international politics: Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2017. Throughout the beginning of her premiership she gained the internal support for her tackling the housing crisis, child poverty and social inequality. In the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, she gained international aplomb for her standing hand in hand with New Zealand’s Muslim community, a gesture paralleled by her swift action to ban semiautomatic and military-grade firearms. Her reputation as a strong leader who is kind and empathetic served New Zealand well during the COVID19 pandemic as a strict, immediate lockdown at the beginning of the outbreak has seen the country remove all restrictions except border controls by June 2020, with deaths numbering a low 22. With government trust at an all-time high 80%, Arden is almost guaranteed to win the election later this year and will continue to be praised as model leader in all aspects.
The second is an established figure who wields masses of power not just in her home country, but around the world: Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. Since 2005 she has ruled from the Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin with an iron fist, gaining a reputation as a consensus-builder with sublime economic strategy. Named Frau Europa by Time magazine in 2010, she has become the de facto leader of Europe, if not the free world, with her controversial austerity tactics implemented in Greece during the Eurozone crisis largely seen as saving the single currency and putting the country back on the road to economic recovery. Despite her plans to not run for re-election, she will easily be remembered as the most successful Chancellor of reunified Germany, having earned the nickname mutti (mother) amongst the German people for taking care of the economy. Considered one of the most experienced and knowledgeable world leaders, her stellar reputation has helped to solidify the image of the powerful female leader in not just Germany, but internationally.
Social movements and pressure groups like MeToo and Sisters Uncut certainly demonstrate that women still face ingrained, structural inequalities in today’s society not solely due to their gender but their race, class or sexuality at the same time. On an international scale, nations governed by women re proving to be beacons of hope and happiness in an otherwise pessimistic world: a promising sign which could signal the beginning of an attempt to repair the injustices of patriarchy and move towards a more egalitarian and intersectional future.