Female Leaders Still Ahead with COVID-19
At first glance, male and female responses to COVID seem notably different.
Aside from the usual Trumpian ramblings,
“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Blunders such as Boris Johnson’s,
“I was at a hospital where there were a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody,”
compared with Jacinda Ardern’s,
“Some countries talked about herd immunity as a strategy. In New Zealand, we never ever considered that. Herd immunity would have meant 10s of 1000s of New Zealanders dying and I simply would not have tolerated that,”
certainly place female leaders in flattering light.
But does this picture hold when we look more systematically at the data?
A fair test
To get a clear picture we need to compare like-for-like. This is difficult because female lead countries:
1) Tend to be wealthier and have greater resources.
2) Tend to have higher levels of human development.
Other factors will play, but these are most likely to skew results.
For a meaningful comparison, I created 4 groups of 20 countries — 1 female lead and 3 male lead:
Wealth and development were chosen to be as close as I could get them. Country names were hidden throughout.
Given the difficulties in accurately measuring cases — comparing deaths is most reliable. Populations vary between groups, but looking at deaths per 100k people equalises this.
I removed countries with the largest populations (China, India, US, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria and Bangladesh) to reduce skew.
Geography may factor, but female lead countries don’t appear to be more favourably positioned:
This sets the stage for a fairer comparison.
It’s clear death rates are still lower in female lead countries.
Have female leaders saved lives?
Its likely better outcomes follow from female leadership, but this shouldn’t be assumed. To avoid angering statisticians — I’d better cover all bases. It could still be correlation.
For example, it could be that more pro-active nations tend to have lower COVID rates and tend to elect female leaders. Or perhaps— populations that prioritise social wellbeing, above economic outcomes, tend to do better against COVID and tend to elect female leaders. The cause and effects are difficult to untangle.
Bases covered — what seems most likely?
I’d guess a combination, but mainly lower deaths being the direct result of female leadership. Separate analyses have shown that in most cases: female leaders locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances. Female leaders valued the immediate safety of their citizens above potential economic downturns. This could be framed as a strength or a weakness when considering the full picture.
Which would you prefer from your leaders?
Response strategies aside — this crisis highlighted which countries have clear, decisive leadership and authentic communication. And which don’t!
The challenges of the next decade include:
- Navigating an increasingly polluted information sphere.
- Dealing with rising wealth inequality and effectively redistributing resources to maximise long-term flourishing.
- Moving focus from economic output to economic, environmental, and social value.
- Collaborating internationally on efforts such as infectious disease and climate change.
In my view, gender-balanced governments hold the strengths needed to meet these challenges. Diverse perspectives, nuanced interpretations and empathic responses are key.
Above all — we need leaders we can trust.
Interestingly, we tend to focus on the top positions, but looking at relationships with national happiness, the order of highest correlation is:
1) Percentage of female MPs
2) Percentage of female ministers
3) Years with female heads of state
This leads me to believe political balance needs to be won at the societal level. We need more women participating in lower levels of government in order to effectively achieve balance at the top. Also, the public needs to prioritise balancing government and to write, share and vote accordingly.
As always — blind spots are a problem. Left unchecked, we naturally filter for evidence that supports our beliefs and fail to see, or disregard, evidence that challenges them.
Hopefully, COVID reveals patterns which are hard to ignore and these are reflected in elections.