Are women proving 'who runs the world' with their swift handling of the coronavirus pandemic?

Sexism is rife in politics. For a very long time, politics has been a ‘man’s world’ but women are emerging as game changers who make decisive decisions in difficult situations.

The idea that women would want a direct voice in political, governmental, and parliamentary affairs was not entertained for much of the 18th and 19th century. In keeping with the times it was simply assumed that such concerns were best left to men.

In America for example. From the colonial period forward, women with and without the vote had been involved in politics. Women supported or opposed the Revolution through their work, words, and sacrifices.

Property-owning women in a few colonies had the right to vote; until 1807 widows and single women who met the property qualification would continue to hold the franchise in New Jersey.

Without the vote, women attended rallies, hosted salons, created organisations aimed at helping poor women and children, and joined in reform movements that ranged from abolishing the scourge of the saloon to the sin of slavery.

The political arena has long been one where women have had to fight to get their voice heard, and where national conservative rabble is doing everything they can to put women down .

Moreso,where women are so often denied the roles they deserve by biased electorates and a male-centric campaign design.

To become a leader as a woman, you have to be significantly better than your male counterpart. You’ll notice that most countries have either never had a woman leader (the USA being a prominent example), or have only had one or two (the UK, Germany, and the vast majority of countries).

Back in 1997, Najma Heptulla, Honorary President of the IPU Council said: "As politics is deeply rooted in society and reflects dominant values, our discussions highlighted clearly that developing a partnership in politics necessarily depends on the degree of partnership as a social mode in general.

“This is undoubtedly why the Inter-Parliamentary Union asserts that what has to be developed, in modern democratic societies, is nothing less than a new social contract in which men and women work in equality and complementarity, enriching each other mutually from their differences. What is basically at stake is democracy itself."

Now, we fast-forward to the present day and look at the coronavirus pandemic that has affected countries globally and put every single leader in the spotlight.

It would be unfair to make this about gender or talk about sexism throughout.However, it is a given that female leaders in politics are being watched closely like their male counterparts. Probably more, and it appears that it is casting a positive light on a number of female heads of state.

It has not gone unnoticed that the countries with the best policies for dealing with coronavirus have women — Angela Merkel in Germany, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand.

In Germany, Angela Merkel has been hailed for direct but uncharacteristically personal public interventions, warning that up to 70% of people would contract the virus – the country’s “greatest challenge” since 1945 – and lamenting every death as that of “a father or grandfather, a mother or grandmother, a partner”

The extensive testing from the beginning, plenty of intensive care beds, and the chancellor’s periodic reminders that Covid-19 was “serious – so take it seriously” has helped and Germany has so far recorded fewer than 5,000 deaths, a far lower figure than most EU countries.

Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, has explained the scientific basis behind the government’s lockdown exit strategy and has helped propel public approval of the fourth-term chancellor’s handling of the crisis above 70%.

In New Zealand, leader Jacinda Arden has announced that the country is preparing to ease strict lockdown rules put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus after successfully limiting its rate of community transmission.​

The country reported five new Covid-19 cases on Monday, the latest in a string of several days during which reported cases hovered in single figures.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country has so far managed to avoid the worst scenarios for an outbreak and would continue to hunt down the last few cases.

“There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand," she said at the government's daily press briefing.

"We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way." Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen responded equally fast to the crisis, activating the country’s central epidemic command centre in early January and introducing travel restrictions and quarantine measures. Mass public hygiene measures were rolled out, including disinfecting public areas and buildings.

Taiwan adopted 124 control and contain measures in weeks, making a full lockdown unnecessary.

It has reported just six deaths, and is now dispatching millions of face masks to the worst-struck parts of the US and Europe. Tsai’s warm, authoritative style has won her plaudits, even from political opponents.

Meanwhile, in Denmark the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, acted swiftly and decisively, closing the Scandinavian country’s borders as early as 13 March. She followed up days later by shutting all kindergartens, schools and universities and banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

That decisiveness appears to have spared Denmark the worst of the pandemic, with fewer than 8,000 confirmed cases and 370 deaths.

In Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s, has offered free testing to all citizens, not only those with symptoms, and has recorded 1,800 cases and 10 deaths. Some 12% of the population has taken up the offer, and an exhaustive tracing system has meant the country has not had to close schools.

Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, and the youngest female leader in the world, also moved decisively to impose a strict lockdown. She banned non-essential travel in and out of the Helsinki region. This has helped her country contain the spread of the virus to just 4,000 cases and 140 deaths, which is 10 times lower than that of neighbour Sweden.

Norway's leader Erna Solberg,last week, began relaxing its restrictions by reopening kindergartens. In an interview with CNN last week she said that she made it a point of letting the scientists make the big medical decisions,adding that she thought her country’s early lockdown and thorough testing programme had been key. Norway recorded 7200 cases and 182 deaths.

While we have focused on female leaders, who are disproportionately represented in many cases, dividing men and women heads of state and government into homogeneous categories is not necessarily useful but it is nice to see that while they are under the watchful eye of the public, their response to the pandemic has been tremendous.