Women make up less than 7 per cent of world leaders globally.

But if anyone could be said to be having a "good pandemic", it has disproportionately been some of these female leaders.

From Taiwan to Germany, New Zealand to Iceland, the responses of countries with women at the helm have been generally seen as the most effective, keeping deaths down and the spread of the infection under control, Telegraph UK reports.

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On Monday, both Iceland and New Zealand declared the pandemic was effectively over in their countries, with no community transmission in New Zealand and only a handful of cases in Iceland.

And the data backs up the initial impressions of success: when the Telegraph compared the responses of different nations, plotting deaths per million against the proportion of tests being done per confirmed case - arguably the clearest way to measure government response - four of the top 10 countries are female-led: Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland and Estonia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Getty Images

There are some caveats, of course. Belgium, led by Sophie Wilmes, has had one of the worst outbreaks in Europe in terms of deaths per capita, with 7207 among its 11.5 million residents. Unlike the UK, it counts care-home deaths, which skews its numbers, but even when these are stripped out as above, it still has a high fatality rate.

There are also a number of countries with male leaders who have also responded well, notably Vietnam, South Korea and Australia - plus it is worth noting factors outside the leaders' control, such as population density and the benefits of being an island nation.

Comparisons between different countries must also be treated with caution, because of differences in recording practices; some countries report total number of tests, others people tested. Testing in many countries is also limited, which is why the Telegraph has examined tests performed per confirmed case. Death rates vary, too, with many countries only reporting deaths in hospitals: Norway, France and Belgium's totals have been revised down to bring them in line with this practice.

However, there are things that can be compared. And for global health experts, regardless of the size of the epidemic, one thing that has led to success in tackling coronavirus is universal: speed.

"Countries that have not dithered in their response, that have mobilised quickly, have done well," said Professor Tom Bollyky, director of the Global Health Programme at think tank the Council for Foreign Relations.

Tsai Ing-Wen waves after addressing supporters following her re-election as President of Taiwan. Photo / Getty Images
Tsai Ing-Wen waves after addressing supporters following her re-election as President of Taiwan. Photo / Getty Images

Or, as New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern put it, "go hard and go early".


But why have female leaders been the ones who have done this?

Experts pointed to a combination of factors, from more collaborative style to more diverse perspectives.

"Why are these leaders doing so well? I think there's no conclusive answer," said Clare Wenham, Assistant Professor in Global Health Policy at the London School of Economics.

"But political research in spheres beyond global health shows that when you get more women at the top there's more transparency, accountability and good governance practices, normally. Certainly in Finland and New Zealand we're seeing daily updates from the leaders and transparent decision making, so that then means there's more trust in the government."

She said female leaders appeared to be listening more to the World Health Organisation's advice and looking at what was working in other countries.

Indeed, Iceland's prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, said on Monday that this approach had been their "main guiding line".


"That means testing a lot of people, tracing, putting the people into quarantine and having people in isolation where they are sick. These instructions are what we have been doing," she said.

Professor Jennifer Tomlinson, professor of gender and employment relations at Leeds University Business School, said: "The research on this is mixed, but there is some mileage in the idea that women's leadership styles may be more collaborative than men, so women may be better at drawing on a range of expertise to get through this crisis."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

For Taiwan's President Tsai-Ing wen, possibly the world leader who has best tackled the virus, that may have meant listening to her vice-president, a leading epidemiologist, about their long-planned response. It worked: despite lying just 130km from the coast of China, the country has seen only six coronavirus deaths after acting quickly to stem the outbreak.

"It seems to be one of the key things is around the date of the shutdown, in places like Taiwan and New Zealand," says Dr Deirdre Anderson, of the UK's Cranfield School of Management.

"The stereotype is that men are more decisive but if you look at all sorts of different cases, women will make data-driven decisions," she said.


Data is something that Germany's Angela Merkel, a scientist herself, has put at the heart of her country's response, with testing and then tracking contacts a priority from the outset, alongside increasing intensive care beds to cope with any peak.

As with some of the other nations listed here, Germany was in a strong position, with a robust economy and a good healthcare system. Merkel herself has pointed to some of the country's lucky breaks in tackling coronavirus.

But the United States, still in the throes of a very serious outbreak with one-third of the world's cases - around one million - was in an even better position, according to 2019's Global Health Security Index, a project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, which suggested it was the single best-placed country to tackle a pandemic globally.

But the headlines it has drawn since the outbreak actually struck have not been so favorable for self-declared "wartime president" Donald Trump, who last week caused chaos after suggesting injections of disinfectant could fight the virus.

Meanwhile, Merkel has been measured, and calm - although there has been a growing backlash against her leadership too, with an editorial on Monday in a leading German newspaper writing: "What worries me the most is that our economy is already so massively and in part irreparably damaged that our government cannot afford to admit that it overreacted in its toughness."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo / AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo / AP

Merkel will be used to the criticism - like most women leaders, says the UK's Women's Equality Party's leader, Mandu Reid. And in this scenario, taking criticism, and possibly adapting in the face of it, is a good thing.


"I think if you've been entitled your whole life, and you've expected and assumed and had it proved over and over that your voice will get heard, it's possible that you will take power and influence for granted, and that is dangerous in a crisis of the severity we are facing here and now," she said.

"Women are used to being scrutinised and having to justify themselves. They've had to work twice as hard to get half as far. And that will incubate perhaps a greater reverence for the job and responsibility . . . Men and many political establishments don't have the same experience."

She said she believed many female leaders, who had faced barriers for their entire carriers, had learned to balance self-belief with self-awareness.

"This crisis shows us how valuable that is," she added. "And one of the other things it shows us is that there are perhaps too few obstacles for incompetent males to rise to the top."

Beyond timings and testing, many have pointed to the different approaches taken by female leaders in terms of getting their populations on board with social distancing measures as part of their success: Jacinda Arden's informal Facebook Lives and her voluntary 20 per cent pay cut in solidarity with other workers, or the press conference for children held by Denmark's Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen.

And although there is no separate data for Scotland's death or testing rates, Nicola Sturgeon - who tweets in a human fashion and was among the first leaders to join the clapping for frontline medical staff on Thursday nights - is also seen as having performed well during the outbreak.


But while some have fallen back on the stereotype that this shows more empathetic leadership by women, Professor Tomlinson instead suggests that this actually represents the fact that women - still often the main caregivers in many societies - have broader experiences to draw from when governing, once again proving that diversity is valuable at the top.

This applies particularly in a crisis where women are, in some cases, being hit harder, often by the unintended consequences of measures taken to protect the public, such as the increased risk of domestic violence in lockdown. Many women are also key workers: for example, 80 per cent of the adult social care workforce is female.

"This is a gendered crisis, it affects men and women very differently, and women are used to looking out for those things. In a situation where those on the most peril on the front lines are often women, the fact that most people at the top haven't had to consider the world through that lens does a disservice to all of us," said Reid.

Tomlinson agreed.

"Women who work still often take the responsibility for care, in their own homes and families. This knowledge may help give them a more rounded perspective, particularly in relation to vulnerable groups," she said.

But she has one point that she says trumps the rest in terms of looking at why female leaders seem to be doing so well in the face of this crisis.


"The critical thing for me, the absolutely most important thing, is that for women leaders to be elected at all, they have to be outstanding, exceptional," she said.

"And that's why we are seeing strong leadership from these women. They are more than qualified enough to do this very, very well," she said.

A woman's touch? Countries with lower rates of coronavirus

Taiwan: 429 cases, 6 deaths

Led by Tsai-Ing wen, Taiwan intervened early with a well-rehearsed and data-driven epidemic strategy. Taipei began blocking flights from China and quarantining before any other Asian capitals and rationed its stockpile of masks to stop panic in a population with painful memories of the 2003 Sars epidemic.

New Zealand: 1472 cases, 19 deaths

A strict lockdown was imposed on 25 March, four days before the first coronavirus death in the country. Ministers took a 20 per cent pay cut - and leader Jacinda Arden confirmed the Easter bunny was a key worker.


St Maarten: 74 cases, 13 deaths

Tiny Sint Maarten went viral when its prime minister ordered a halt on all nonessential movement, saying: "Stop moving. Simply stop moving. If f you do not have the type of bread you like in your house, eat crackers. If you do not have bread, eat cereal. Eat oats. Sardines."

Iceland: 1,792 cases, 10 deaths

Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir led by example, working from home when a child in her son's class contracted the virus.The country has tested 10 per cent of its population and followed scientific recommendations.

Denmark: 8698 cases, 427 deaths

The virus has stabilised in Denmark after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was one of the first European leaders to act, locking down the country in early March.


Germany: 158,000 cases, 5976 deaths

Germany began testing from the get-go; and as of last week it had done 1.7 million tests. It also quickly boosted its already strong intensive care bed provision, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's ratings have soared as its mortality rates have stayed low.