It's not having a female leader that counts, it's everyone

A LOT of focus in the media over the past year has centred around how individual leaders across the globe have handled this relentless pandemic.

It's not having a female leader that counts, it's everyone
Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Government

Leadership has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the responsible to the deadly. At one end there is Angela Merkel's impassioned pre-Christmas plea to the German people to adhere to social distancing and drastically reduce contacts and at the other the travesty of Trump and his self-interested abandonment of the American people to their viral fate.

One sub-story has been to note that female leaders seem to be significantly better at pandemic crisis management than their male counterparts. A new report published on PLOS One scientific journal 'interrogates' this narrative to discover whether countries led by women have truly fared better during the global storm than those led by men. It's called Gender In The Time Of Covid-19: Evaluating National Leadership and Covid-19 Fatalities and its findings, on the surface, may come as a surprise and indeed as a disappointment.

This report records that there is actually very little difference in the numbers of reported deaths between women-led and men-led countries. It notes that while certain female leaders have shown 'impressive governance' during the pandemic, and finds some limited support for lower reported fatality rates in countries led by women, it concludes these are not statistically significant. Female leaders have not saved more lives.

To properly evaluate gendered policy-making, studies would need a far larger sample. Having only 16 female leaders across the globe is not enough to make comprehensive conclusions on who makes a better leader in humanity's hour of need; countries led by men far outnumber countries led by women and thus the sample (rather like society itself) is rigged by gender.

In addition, the report concludes that "the perspective that women have been better leaders during the pandemic is rooted in selection bias, based on selective reporting of cases where women-led...