A picture circulating recently on social media suggested that countries with female leadership, such as Germany and Denmark, were leading in the management of the Coronavirus. It had me thinking about the role of women in the fight against COVID-19, through leadership, delivery of healthcare services, and other roles close to home. Some studies suggest that women’s (or feminine) qualities, such as tact and understanding, are more useful in crisis management than masculine qualities like exertion of authority, albeit dependent on the prevailing conditions.
Germany, headed by Chancellor Angel Merkel, has reported a significantly low COVID-mortality rate compared to other European countries like Italy and Spain. Belgium, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes, is undertaking extensive clinical trials to determine the success of hydroxychloroquine (the malaria treatment drug) in the treatment of this new strain of Coronavirus. Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen recently announced that the government would provide 2.6 billion Danish kroner to prevent layoffs in the private sector by supplementing 75% of employee salaries. Iceland, led by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is almost flattening its curve. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced that some businesses and kindergartens would be reopened since the country had been able to gain control of the virus.
Of course, it would be reductive to assume that these countries are performing well just because women sit at the helm. There are many people, men, and women, contributing to the management of the disease.
Moreover, it could be argued that these countries already had systems in place that enhanced their preparedness for the pandemic. For instance, Germany has one of the world’s most comprehensive health systems, while Iceland adopted an aggressive policy of quarantine, extensive testing and contact tracing to flatten the curve. Nonetheless, without the exemplary guidance and aggressive actions taken by these women leaders, such advantages would have made little difference.
Closer home, in Charity Ngilu’s Kitui County, a Textile Center was turned into a surgical assembly line overnight, producing over 30,000 surgical masks daily. Considering the loud silence of most Kenyan politicians, I am proud that the visible one is a woman making a real impact. Other notable voices include Mercy Mwangangi, the CAS Ministry of Health, and Loice Ombajo, the Head of the Infectious Disease Unit at the Kenyatta Hospital.
Women make up 70% of the world’s healthcare and 25% of global leadership. In China, 90% of nurses and approximately 50% of doctors are female. Similarly, in Kenya, there are more women nurses than men. As front-line healthcare providers, caregivers at home and in the society at large, and other positions, women play a critical role in addressing the outbreak. In Kenya, many of the small businesses, including mama mbogas and salons adversely affected by the pandemic, are run by women. This article is not meant to negate the role of men in this “war.” It is a celebration of the women who are smashing the stereotypes about women leaders. Even Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen led her country into quick action against the virus and its effects on the economy through the identification and containment of infected persons and resource allocation.
It is a shame that many of the political women leaders in Kenya remain silent about the pandemic. They have taken a back seat, watching, rather than providing the required leadership. I would like to see them at the forefront, championing for better treatment and compensation for health workers, organizing relief deployment to vulnerable populations, and encouraging women to be courageous and collaborative to help their families navigate the crisis. If you’ve been lucky, you’ve seen your mothers, aunties, and other female relatives pull their families through the toughest of circumstances. You have witnessed mothers take care of their ailing children and husbands- putting their anxieties aside and sacrificing with admirable strength. The woman does not sit in the corner while her children are crying.
The numbers are too few, and it may be too soon to conclude that women leaders are better at handling the spread of the Coronavirus. But man, it is a beautiful thing to witness- women getting shit done.