Why are women leaders so important in the face of Covid-19 and beyond?

“We cannot have a successful Covid strategy without the empathy and collaboration of women.” On International Women’s Day, Green Party Women consider why and how nations led by women appear to have navigated the pandemic in a more empathetic and effective way. 

Gabriella Ramos and Jacinda Ardern

© Hervé Cortinat, OECD https://www.flickr.com/photos/oecd/40881920323 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Green Party Women

“As we look towards the future, shouldn’t we seek to amplify the voices of those that have previously been overlooked? As a society, let’s consider how we can use the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for change to develop a more sustainable and inclusive society.” – Energy Voice

We’ve seen various case studies over the past 12 months that show how Western countries led by women have responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic: New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern has successfully pursued a zero-Covid strategy, and Germany’s Angela Merkel boasted one of the lowest death rates in the world. These stats have led a lot of people to consider: Does having women in politics make this much of a difference? And if so, why?

Lots of people have attempted to figure out what makes women lead differently (and potentially better) than men – this article, for example, includes women’s focus on collaboration, empathy, and creativity in conflict resolution, all of which are of course vital under the circumstances. Empathy has proved particularly important throughout the pandemic, for example in our exit strategy for lockdowns, where many men-led nations have prioritised the economy over human lives, or over the social interaction we need far more than a shopping spree. We’re reminded of the time between the UK’s first and second lockdowns where you could still not hug your family, but could travel abroad or to the club. What made New Zealand’s strategy so effective was their willingness to take risks and sacrifice their economy very early on, which meant that in the long term, not only the economy but the people had to sacrifice a lot less. Perhaps such risk-taking is also telling of a left-wing government, instead of the attempted stasis and ‘back to normal’ attitude of the UK Conservatives – but there is a strong case to be made for Ardern’s sense of collaboration, empathy and creativity as a woman, that led to the success of New Zealand last year.

In the move away from a COVID-19 world this year, we find ourselves having to confront the idea of ‘back to normal’, in terms of what ‘normal’ was, and if we consider it better than what society could be. Such a drastic change in our way of life opens up so many more opportunities to build a better world, during such a revolutionary period of history. We saw an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions during the first lockdown, and a heartwarming decrease in food waste, which has proved that we can put sustainable legislation in place when we need to. Of course, we shouldn’t stay in lockdown just for the sake of the environment, but it’s clear that we can make cutbacks and encourage healthier choices when it comes down to it.

Just as women have arguably served better at the forefront of the pandemic, we will be vital in the rebuilding of our society in a new, sustainable, empathetic, collaborative world. The same leadership qualities so vital during the pandemic are equally vital in the handling of the climate crisis and social issues. Such systematic changes in our society demand a dynamic, resourceful, progressive leader, and Ardern has proved herself a great example of that. Studies have shown that having women represented in politics does make tangible differences: women are more likely to pass policy about childcare, violence, pensions, and caring, as well as environmental issues and women’s issues themselves. This article includes a variety of studies that show women as typically more environmentally conscious, both personally and in political contexts, and this has already been demonstrated by the changes in policy by women-led nations in the past few years.

Women are more likely to think about policy and government in an intersectional way, because we know what it’s like to be voiceless, and so we strive to give a voice to those who are still voiceless today. Only women can truly understand and address the problems that women face, whether these are more direct issues such as violence against women, or general issues that disproportionately affect women, such as poverty or the climate crisis. In the same way, we need different demographics of women to address different women’s problems – a white woman cannot properly address the issues that women of colour face, for example, which is why collaboration is so important in these times of change.

However, simply having women in politics isn’t enough. This webinar at 2:32:18 discusses how both Theresa May and Priti Patel describe themselves as feminists, even though their actions as politicians negatively affect women. We need progressive, open-minded, creative women in politics, which we’re lucky to have an abundance of in the Green Party. Our Party policy places women at the centre of the green recovery, because we recognise not only that women have unique qualities that are critical in solving the climate crisis, but also that climate justice equals social justice, as the two are so inextricably linked. May and Patel are not true feminists because feminism isn’t feminism unless it works for everyone, in the same way that we cannot have a truly green society without women at the forefront of it, or a successful Covid strategy without the empathy and collaboration of women.