8 (More) Women Leaders Facing The Coronavirus Crisis

From Forbes


More Women Leaders Facing Coronavirus


Women now govern 18 countries and 545 million people globally. That’s 7% of the world’s population. (Exactly the same percentage, by the way, of women CEOs on the Fortune 500.) From Bangladesh and Ethiopia, to Georgia and Singapore, women are emerging into political leadership across the globe. And this revelatory crisis is showing their talents. My last blog outlining the crisis management lessons from seven countries run by women went viral and has been read by seven million people (what’s with the seven number? let’s bump it up a bit). Here’s an introduction to eight less well-known examples who also deserve to be recognized for their efforts. Remember their names, they are (re)shaping the future.

Both Singapore under President Halima Yacob and Hong Kong, China, under Chief Executive Carrie Lam have been globally admired for their early and highly effective lead in getting ahead of the crisis. Now Singapore is scrambling with a second-wave whiplash, while Lam has done better at nipping resurgence in the bud. Different cultures and issues in every country mean responses will never be a one size fits all. We will learn better if we learn together.

8 Countries with Women Leaders Managing Coronavirus Crises


That’s why Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde (who recognizes gender as the most cross-cutting issue of any other issue”), joined with President Halima Yacob and other national leaders (a balanced group of 3 men and two women) to write a joint appeal in the Financial Times for global cooperation. “We can contain and counter COVID-19 more effectively,” they wrote, “by knocking down the barriers that hinder knowledge exchange and co-operation. Crises like these tend to bring out both the best and the worst in people. It is our responsibility as leaders to encourage the former and contain the latter.” Amen.

Georgia was lauded as a success story in the global fight against coronavirus. Under Salome Zourabichvili’s leadership, it was among “the first countries in Europe to undertake effective measures.” As the virus spread, she moved decisively: suspending direct flights with emerging hot spots, profiling and quarantining travelers from abroad. She relied on sharing the truth through a public awareness campaign of unprecedented scope—well before most of Europe began to say anything about it at all. Schools were closed and targeted lockdowns set up when the country still only had three confirmed cases. Georgia, knowing it didn’t have the means to manage an outbreak, threw all its resources at containment at a very early stage of the outbreak compared to its richer European neighbors.

Bangladesh, a country of some 161 million people, led by Sheikh Hasina, is no stranger to crises. She was quick off her feet standing up to this one, with a response the World Economic Forum called “admirable.” Sheikh Hasina, the country’s longest serving Prime Minister, started evacuating Bangladeshi citizens from China in early February. After the first case was diagnosed in early March, she closed educational institutions and nudged all non-essential businesses to go online. Then she harnessed tech, installing screening devices across international airports which screened some 650,000 people (of which 37,000 were immediately quarantined), something the U.K. still isn’t doing.

In Bolivia, Interim President Jeanine Añez was catapulted into leadership when President Morales fled the country last November. A few months later, she was putting the country into lockdown, and passing a series of directives detailed in a dedicated Coronavirus Bolivia Wikipedia page. So far, in a country of almost 12 million people in impossibly difficult economic conditions, deaths have been limited to 37 so far (as of April 22).

Namibia’s Saara Kuugongelwa was prioritizing preparedness to emergency health risks last year, long before anyone began talking COVID-19. Nepal’s President Bhandari, who earlier successfully pushed through a mandate to have women comprise at least a third of Nepal's parliament, gave two months of her salary to the Coronavirus Infection Prevention, Control and Treatment Fund.

These leaders are the promising tip of an avalanche of talent waiting to be unleashed on the world. They are our collective return on a smart, 100-year-old investment (ROI). Gender balancing our political and economic systems is a good use of the fruits of one of the triumphs of human ingenuity: equality. Our differences are delightful and impactful. We should acknowledge, leverage and use them—now! It might save us yet.