Women Lead the Fight Against COVID-19

Women lead less than seven percent of countries around the world and are only 30 percent of global health leaders. Yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, female leaders are having the highest success rate against coronavirus.

Let’s start with the first woman to take a lead on coronavirus—the person to first discover the type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in 1964, June Almeida.

The daughter of a Scottish bus driver, Almeida dropped out of school when she was only 16 and was a self-taught virologist. She pioneered a method that better visualized viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them while she worked in Toronto, Canada at the Ontario Cancer Institute. That method came in handy in the early 1960s when she moved to London and used her skill in the electron microscope to discover the first coronavirus.

It was Almeida that gave the world any sort of running start to combating the current pandemic. And many women now are trying to keep that momentum going.

Female leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen have all been praised for their work in their countries against COVID-19.

However, these are just several female examples, and as The New York Time’s Amanda Taub put it, “we should resist drawing conclusions about women leaders from a few exceptional individuals acting in exceptional circumstances.”

Amie Batson, Executive Director of Womenlift Health, told CGTN that women are more often put into a place of leadership during a crisis because they are more likely to fail—something she called the “glass cliff.” Batson says the “glass cliff” effect might be the initial goal in today’s society when women get appointed to leadership positions. However, it’s doing the opposite—women are proving how effective they are in leading through crisis. The idea that they’re more likely to fail creates room to make non-traditional and/or radical leadership decisions that lean more towards “collaboration, empathy, and a focus on evidence” rather than the traditional “masculine” ideals.

Though there are male-led countries that have displayed success in flattening the curve like Iceland and Ireland, female-led areas are displaying a much smaller failure rate. Brazil, for example, the country with the lowest percentage of women serving in national leadership and the least amount of initiative in women’s needs during the pandemic, is now the second-worst affected by the virus.

In no way does this prove women make better leaders than men. However, it does effectively show that the archaic macho archetype that society has expected from its leaders for centuries provides no room for teamwork or empathy and needs to be dismantled. More diverse leadership leads to open-minded strategizing and understanding of a country’s people and needs. And that’s what’s necessary for any of us to excel and beat this pandemic.