Women presidents are leading like BOSSES during Covid-19

By Aarti Bhana

Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany and a number of other distinguished countries are doing an outstanding job at containing and even in some cases eliminating the Covid-19 pandemic from their countries. These countries all have one thing in common. Women.

So, that’s what we’re looking at in the second part of explain’s leadership series: the female leaders who have been KILLING the Covid-19 containment game! We’re not the only ones who think so. Publications like Forbes, The Guardian and others think so too, so we thought we’d take a closer look.

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Check out our full video analysis on it here:


President: Tsai hlng-wen 

Number of cases to date: 440

Deaths: 7 

Active cases: 61

Despite being on the doorstep of China, Taiwan was able to arrest the spread of Covid-19 across its country from the very beginning. President Tsai hlng-wen was quick to act, while the rest of the world was still waking up to the dangers of the virus.

Some of the immediate measures implemented includes:

  • Activating a central epidemic command centre in January 
  • Introducing strict travel restrictions and quarantine measures 
  • Rolling out mass public hygiene measures 
  • Adopting 124 control and containment policies in a matter of weeks
  • Ramping up testing and re-testing 

All these measures means that Taiwan did not even have to order a full nationwide lockdown. That’s pretty impressive, even after it was named by John Hopkins University as one of the nations ‘most at risk’ outside mainland China. 

With its world-class healthcare system and universal coverage – Taiwan combatted the virus early and effectively. But it also got help from past experiences. During the SARS outbreak in 2002, Taiwan was among the nations severely affected. According to CNN over 180 000 people were quarantined on the island and over 180 people died. The severity and aftermath of SARS helped Taiwan prepare for what Covid-19 had coming. Plus, if you know your history well, you’ll know that conflicting relations with China, meant that Taiwan became a sovereign state. So, it did everything in its own capacity. With a leader like Tsai hlng-wen Taiwan remains in a favourable position. Its numbers are significantly low – not even past the 500 mark – and it will now donate 10 million masks to the US, Italy, Spain and other nations. 

New Zealand 

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden 

Number of cases to date: 1 497 

Deaths: 21 

Active cases: 78

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has been winning hearts since she enforced stricter gun laws following the mosque shooting in Christchurch last year. She did something that has taken other presidents and prime ministers (we won’t mention names) years to do.  

She’s using that same charisma and decisiveness in her response to Covid-19. In one of her first public addresses, she said she would be ‘going hard and going early’ in response to the pandemic. 

Some reports claim that New Zealand is the first nation to ‘eliminate’ Covid-19. But Arden later corrected these reports to say they have not eradicated it, but they are working on eliminating it, adding that they have ‘zero tolerance’ for cases. 

But this is where New Zealand wins, the country has no ‘undetected widespread community transmission’, – meaning that there’s been no new cases in a while. In a few words, Arden has the situation under control. 

Arden was one of the first leaders to call for a lockdown. This after she ordered a strict 14-day quarantine on anyone entering the country. Arden is now easing restrictions, from level 4 about a week ago to level 3 soon. According to Arden the initial measures were the ‘strictest constraints placed on New Zealanders in modern history’. 

Even though the infection rate is slowing, Arden told New Zealanders, it’s no cause for celebration and called for people to remain vigilant if they want numbers to stay low. 

Arden is receiving praise for her early action – calling for a lockdown on March 26, when the nation reported just over 100 cases. She is also ramping up testing, and is being applauded for using ‘good science’ to overcome the problem.

But unlike most other first world countries, New Zealand doesn’t have a super advantaged healthcare system or enough intensive care beds, as one microbiologist pointed out, and that’s why Arden had to act fast!

Read more on New Zealand’s healthcare system here

The 39-year-old, along with government ministers and public chief executives, has also taken a 20% pay cut in solidarity with workers hit by Covid-19. She also frequently, very casually hosts Facebook live videos to check up on her people, ready to answer any questions they might have. 

She is yet another example of exceptional female leadership and fellow Kiwis are showing full support. 


Chancellor Angela Merkel

Number of cases: 172 812  

Deaths: 7667

Active cases: 17 945

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s scientific background is giving her a great advantage in the fight against the rona. In early March she bravely admitted that at least 70% of the German population will be infected – not to stir panic, but to prepare people. 

Since the first case, the number of infections has skyrocketed, but at the same time, Germany has done quite a good job in slowing its death rate, thanks to its super-sophisticated healthcare system, high supply of resources, facilities and even healthcare workers.

Merkel prepared herself and the nation at the onset of the outbreak. When SHE took it seriously, everyone else did too. Although Merkel did not call for a complete lockdown, she ordered schools, shops, public gatherings, bars, restaurants and entertainment centres be closed. She called on people to practice social-distancing and at their best to avoid contact with others. This was effective in managing deaths, On May 10, Merkel eased restrictions – so people can start dining in restaurants, and schools have reopened. Some say she did it too soon, others are protesting for the ‘lockdown’ to end completely.

One article in the Atlantic describes Merkel’s leadership style as analytical, unemotional and cautious. It continues to say Merkel is well-respected, has a coordinated system of scientific and medical expertise across Germany, that she has the hard-earned trust of the public.  

Aside from this, Germany is also being lauded for its high testing rate. Germany conducts about 400 000 tests per week but has increased capacity to carry out 900 000 tests a week, a local news website reported. It’s one of the few nations with a really high testing rate and relatively low death rate. History will remember Germany for the lives it saved, perhaps. 


Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen 

Number of cases: 10 591

Deaths: 533 

Active cases: 1730

Denmark’s Mette Frederikson also joins the ranks of female leaders making headlines for doing all the right things. She is Denmark’s youngest ever Prime Minister and is a powerhouse. 

Initially, Frederiksen was accused of overreacting when news of the virus emerged – because only eight days after Denmark reported its first case, she restricted gatherings to 1 000 people only. Days later, she reduced it  to 100 and then to ten. She was quick to close borders, schools, kindergartens, gyms and churches. She was way ahead of other European nations. And when you compare the numbers, her overreaction was totally justified. Compared to neighbouring Sweden, with over 27 000 cases, Denmark is doing well. 

The 42-year-old has also taken to social media to connect with teenagers and warn them about the virus. She is hard-hitting but compassionate and has made attempts to connect with her people. 

Denmark started easing restrictions from mid-April, opening schools and nurseries. It was again one of the first European nations to lift restrictions. Frederiksen however warned that Denmark will be slow and cautious in easing restrictions. 

She said, “If we open Denmark too quickly again, we risk infections rising too sharply and then we’ll have to close down again.”

Denmark’s healthcare system is universal, free of charge and high-quality. Which gives its citizens a high advantage. Frederiksen mentioned that Denmark will increase testing to those with mild symptoms too.

And even as this happens, BBC reported that Denmark still has plenty of capacity and ventilators in its hospitals. 

But one Professor noted, “the country needs to be ready for potential ‘flare-ups’ of the virus”, meaning that Denmark will have to build up testing capacity. 

The takeaway: Denmark has prepared for both good and bad scenarios.

Female leaders of other nations like Finland and Iceland have also made their mark for good leadership in the time of crisis. 


Prime Minister Sanna Marin 

Number of infections 6 003 

Number of deaths: 275 

Active cases: 1 428

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, only 34 years old, is the nation’s youngest-ever leader and the second youngest leader in the world. She rose to power in December 2019 and had to quickly steer the nation through this global pandemic. Although criticized for being slow off the mark, Marin has now won the support of 85% of Finns, according to a poll cited in the publication, CSMonitor

Finland is doing well in containing infection rates and in preparing the healthcare system. In mid-March Marin did something Finland had never done in peacetime: she invoked the Emergency Powers Act, which allowed for an infusion of public funds for healthcare and social welfare, according to Vogue. Marin closed schools, museums, libraries and the border and banned public gatherings.

Plus, being a millennial herself, Marin adopted a unique strategy to reach out to Finns: social influencers. The Finnish government enlisted social influencers to contain the spread of the virus. The government said “the aim of the cooperation is to provide better access to information for those who are difficult to reach through traditional channels.”

Read more here

It’s a good way to stay on top of the fake news debacle across the world. 


Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Number of infections 1 800

Number of deaths: 10

Active case: 15

Iceland’s Katrín Jakobsdóttir has managed to keep the number of infections and deaths pretty low. Iceland ONLY has 15 active cases at the moment and has not reported a new case in five days, according to Forbes Magazine. This is giving Jakobsdóttir confidence to not just lift restrictions but to also reopen borders just in time for Iceland’s summer tourism season. 

Borders are set to open on June 15, but incoming travellers will have to undergo some procedure: optional 14 day quarantine and testing upon arrival. The results will be given the same day. 

This is a major step for Iceland, as most other European nations only ease some restrictions.  Iceland is another one of the countries that didn’t have to order a full lockdown because the restrictions – like banning gatherings of more than 20 people and closing schools and borders – was enough. Jakobsdóttir also implemented a widespread and comprehensive testing programme much earlier than other nations. According to Forbes more than 17 900 people or nearly 5% of the population had been tested by the end of March. But as she prepares to open borders, there’s been no clarity on how further testing will be implemented. Nonetheless, Jakobsdóttir stands out for her leadership. 

Now, all of this does not necessarily prove that all females would make a good leader. There have been some cases of female leaders messing up big time, for instance, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi who faced fire for her government’s treatment of the Rohingya people, and some might argue Britain’s Theresa May didn’t have a good handle on things either while she was at the helm.

But one trend that has emerged in the time of this crisis is that very few women have done badly and history will remember them! Cheers to that!