When the people of New Zealand get ready to lock in March, their prime minister Jacinda Ardern aired on Facebook from the couch. “I think I’ll jump online and just check with everyone, really, because we’re all preparing to squat for a few weeks,” he said, smiling warmly at the selfie camera in an old T-shirt after seeing his daughter go to sleep. “Sorry casual clothes, it can be a messy business of putting a toddler into bed.”
Contrast with Boris JohnsonThe locker-room-style talk and Westminster blokey briefing couldn’t be more striking. Only three of the 92 government press conferences were led by women, and ministers were accused of macho behavior during the crisis. But the Arderns have gone through a storm. Of a population of five million, New Zealand has recorded 22 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Among the least affected countries are Iceland, Taiwan, Finland, Denmark and Germany – all led by women.
So what about Ardern and his friends Girl leaders build a femocracy that is against Covid? There is no pressure or black belt to brag, for starters. While Johnson was accused of avoiding surveillance by “avoiding” the daily briefing, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has won awards for slogging at almost all of his country’s press conferences. He was also praised for easing more cautious locking restrictions – a poll last month found most British citizens thought Scotland had handled the pandemic better than Britain.
Iceland has also been heralded for handling Covid-19, recording only 10 deaths. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir acted quickly, offering free testing to all citizens, while Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and the Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin both of them followed Ardern’s instructions, moving quickly to impose a travel ban. Their steps may be stricter than many countries, but their delivery is softer. Ardern took Kiwi’s hand through a pandemic, delivering video messages without sermons from his living room and non-aggressive press conferences. If a staff member enters during Facebook Live, he will introduce them to viewers, and when a reporter forgets his question in a recent briefing, Ardern jokes and tells him that he hopes he has enough sleep.
Like the Kiwi leader, Marin is also active on social media, asking the Finnish YouTubers to help spread his message at home, while the Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen – widely praised for the country’s low death rate of 370 – has posted fun clips of himself dancing and washing dishes on Facebook during a weekly TV lockout.
Even the German chancellor Angela Merkel, known for its scientific test-based approach, has been heralded for its “searingly empathic” style at the briefing. His speeches are honest – warning that up to 70 percent of people will get the virus – but personally, lamenting every death as “father of grandfather, mother or grandmother, partner …” A snapshot of him explains the scientific basis behind the strategy the exit was shared thousands of times online.
She and many women leaders were also praised for taking time to convince. Ardern and Norwegian PM Erna Solberg both spoke to the children privately: Ardern gave the Easter rabbit and the status of the “important worker” the tooth fairy; Solberg holds a press conference for kindergarten children.
And Danish Frederiksen is not afraid to deal with problems that interfere with sexually frustrated adults in lockdowns. Unlike Matt Hancock who blushed when he submitted questions to the couple to medical officer Jenny Harries, Frederiksen answered directly the needs of adults. “Sex is good, sex is healthy,” his director general of health told a briefing, explaining how even single people who have a relatively high number of sexual partners should not feel hampered by social distance. “As with other human contacts, there is a risk of infection. But of course someone must be able to have sex. “The best part? He gave a man a job to announce. Now that’s feminine.