A study by the University of Queensland in Australia sifted through reams of data from 91 nations to reach the conclusion that countries with female leaders logged nearly 40 percent fewer deaths from COVID-19 than countries led by men in the first year of the pandemic. “Countries where women were at the head of government outperformed countries with male leadership, with an average 39.9% fewer confirmed COVID-19 deaths,” researcher Kelvin Tan wrote in the summary. “This figure can be attributed to female leaders taking quick and decisive action, a broader view of the wider impact on society and being more receptive to innovative thinking.”
The study looked at pandemic response between January and December 2020 and took into account cultural differences, population density, religious diversity and politics. “We found female leaders tend to act promptly and decisively and are more risk-averse towards the loss of human life, which play an essential role in pandemic prevention and outcomes,” Tan said, noting that even though many countries shared similar strategies, differences in morbidity and mortality were stark.
Using the example of male-led Australia and female-led New Zealand, Tan noted that Australia’s per capita death rate was shockingly high. “As of 31 December 2020, although the population of Australia was only five times that of NZ, Australia had reported around 13 times more infections and 36 times the number of deaths than the numbers reported by New Zealand,” he wrote.
The study also underscored that in countries where political corruption were rife, the pandemic was far worse. “We’ve identified a set of predetermined, country-specific characteristics that have significantly influenced the outcomes of the pandemic and we hope policymakers use them to manage risk during future health emergencies,” Tan said. “Our findings highlight the importance of prevention, rather than treatment, in reducing COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.”
The study stops around the time vaccines were introduced, at the end of 2020, but showcases the importance of coherent and trustworthy leadership. “It is unrealistic to expect all countries to choose female leaders,” the study concludes. “However, perhaps male leaders could learn from their female counterparts and pay more attention to issues that matter to the health of the broader population and society. Trust in government, law, and order, which take a long time to develop, build a country’s resilience and have proved instrumental during both peace and crises.”