Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan and Finland have all smashed the coronavirus. Australian journalist Alexis Carey reveals what they have in common.

The world has been battling the lethal coronavirus pandemic for months on end – and now a group of nations with one thing in common are coming out on top.

For weeks now, a series of global headlines have sprung up claiming countries with female leaders have been more successful in managing the crisis.

And the numbers seem to back that claim up.


New Zealand – led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – now has 1504 confirmed Covid-19 cases but has recorded just 21 deaths.

Taiwan, led by President Tsai Ing-wen, has 440 cases and has had seven deaths, while Finland – who has 34-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the helm, has 6493 confirmed cases and 306 deaths.

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Denmark, under Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, has 11,380 confirmed cases and 561 deaths while Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has 179,021 confirmed cases with 8203 deaths.

While some of those European numbers might seem high at first glance, they are well below the deadly statistics of other neighbouring nations.

In the UK, the death toll stands at 36,124, with Italy recording 32,486 deaths, France 28,218 and Spain 27,940.

As the glaring differences in death tolls and infection rates between nations began to emerge, a string of articles were published praising female leadership during the unprecedented outbreak.

In a Washington Post piece from April 21 titled "Female world leaders hailed as voices of reason amid the coronavirus chaos", reporters Jennifer Hassan and Siobhán O'Grady argued a number of female world leaders were winning the virus fight.

"They have attracted praise for effective messaging and decisive action, in stark contrast to the bombastic approaches of several of the world's most prominent male leaders — including some who face criticism for early fumbles that fuelled the spread of the virus," they wrote.

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The article quoted the University of Auckland's director of the Public Policy Institute, Jennifer Curtin, who said "We might think of this as a halo effect on some women leaders … because we see … a couple of hyper masculine leaders responding in a very aggressive way".

It was soon followed by a Guardian post which asked "Are female leaders more successful at managing the coronavirus crisis?"

That article argued that while many nations led by men – including Australia – had also fared well during the pandemic, "few with female leaders have done badly".

And Forbes writer Stephanie Denning suggested "the leaders who have demonstrated to be the most decisive — and calm — have also been women", while the New York Times later claimed "Countries led by women seem to be particularly successful in fighting the coronavirus".

When it comes to why so many countries led by women appear to be beating the virus, most of the authors agreed on several common themes, such as fast, decisive action, such as Ardern becoming one of the first leaders to close borders and introduce lockdowns.


Another major reason put forward was a willingness to listen and act on the advice of experts in their field.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge found themselves drafted in as bingo callers to help keep up the spirits of residents at a care home in Cardiff during the coronavirus lockdown. Video / BBC

"Leaders like Ardern and Frederiksen have shown that strength in a time of crisis can come from acknowledging that you are not the expert in this arena and then listening to those who are," the Forbes article states.

"And then not being afraid to act on the evidence even if you can't be sure whether it is the right course of action. It takes a unique style of confidence to lead in this manner, a style of leadership that is at once vulnerable and assertive, both empathetic and tough."

And while these qualities are certainly not unique to female leaders, they're all too often lacking among those in positions of power.