States are gendered (J. Tickner, 1996), and gender influences all actors and agents’ behavior. It impacts the several dimensions involved in decision-making, outside and inside political institutions. For example, a political decision on when, how, and why to act in a particular way during a global health crisis may also be influenced by gender.
Contemporary feminist scholars have argued that taking gender into consideration is critical when analyzing state behavior or international phenomena. This analytical and theoretical wake-up call resulted from studies pertaining to the role of men in political leadership and its global consequences. The Beijing guidelines of 1995 and several other conjunctures aim to increase political representation for women, promote their participation in the decision-making process, and support their contributions to suffice into leadership roles.
Since then, there has been considerable development in the democratic framework, with more female leaders appearing in leadership roles of democratic countries. This is an opportunity to look at the other side of the gender spectrum to reflect on the several consequences of having strong women in influential positions. Let’s evaluate the impact of gender on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we discuss the efficient and affirmative policies and strategies utilized by female leaders amid the pandemic, it’s also critical to consider that these women lead strong democracies with relatively robust economies. However, the achievement of fighting the crisis carries a praise-worthy inventiveness that paved the way for many other political leaders to follow. First, let’s take a look at the current situation of women in political leadership across the globe.
54% of the 153 countries mentioned in the Gender Gap Report (2020) haven’t had any female as the head of the state in the last few decades. On average, only 24% of women occupy parliamentary seats, while only 19% of them represent ministries worldwide. Approximately 28 countries have a female serving as the head of government or the state, whereas more than 51% of women in European countries took office.
The political under-representation of women has declined over the years. However, the current numbers are still alarming as they remind us of the long-standing challenges posed by the international order, inherently permeated by gender inequalities in the form of gender disparity.
Whether its Angela Merkel’s transparency approach, Jacinda Ardern’s prompt responsiveness, or Mette Frederiksen’s empathy-ridden measures, these women made a substantial difference by setting an example for positive political engagement.
By quickly evaluating the situation and understanding that the narratives surrounding our reality are important (Elshtain, Fox Keller), these female leaders addressed their nations affirmatively to establish transparent communication. They chose measures that urged the citizens to take the pandemic seriously and showcase unprecedented solidarity. These women leaders allocated resources efficiently, implemented strategic lockdown and social distancing policies, and manages to reinforce and mobilize compliance and cooperation in their respective societies.
If gender is taken into account, this means that by listening to others, not being overly self-assured, caring empathetically, and ensuring expertise remains above their own egotistical image, female political leaders may have proactively managed to save numerous lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about how gendered approaches affect political leadership, you should check out the extensive literature available at Theodore Hopf’s website. As an award-winning book author and a prominent leader in the study of IRT, he has evaluated how the harsh criticism and excessive scrutiny faced by female political leaders may drive the ingenious behavior that leads to better decision-making in crises.