Through the watchful eyes of the world’s media, it appears New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can do no wrong. As the youngest female leader in the nation’s history, and only the third woman in an endless trail of male governors, in recent days Ardern has become the envy of countless world leaders as she officially declares the Covid-19 pandemic eradicated in New Zealand. As all social distancing measures are lifted and the limitations placed upon the numbers of attendees in public spaces are removed, the sentiment of the country has turned determinedly to restructuring New Zealand’s economy. As the recipient of enormous praise for her proficient handling of the Covid-19 crisis, Ardern’s leadership has served to reinforce the dichotomy between competent political management and the puerile behaviour exhibited by Britain and the United States.
As a communicator, Ardern is succinct, personal, empathetic and rational – undoubtedly a lesson in leadership to other governments struggling to subdue the spread of Covid-19 and mitigate the prospect of a major economic recession. Recently, she hit headlines as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit New Zealand mid-way through an interview with Ryan Bridge in May, demonstrating the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ sentiment which seems particularly lost on the disorderly British government. However, even in her short period as Prime Minister, her impressive handling of difficult situations has become deeply embedded within her political policy. The mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019 reflected one of the most major terrorist incidents in New Zealand’s history. Not a leader to simply explain away the problem with empty gestures and a piecemeal response, Ardern tightened gun law restrictions and met those affected with empathy, concern and kindness. “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name”, she asserted in the speech that followed. Rendering the assailant nameless, and diverting the focus instead to the victims, Ardern demonstrated one of the most articulate and thoroughly managed responses to a global terrorist attack of the modern era. It certainly seems there is a lot to praise Ardern for: from eschewing the view that working women can’t be mothers, to the crowning achievement in her policy – that she is an assertive, but non-aggressive leader.
But whilst Ardern is gaining recognition for her astute leadership of New Zealand, the world needs other female leaders, too. In Germany, Angela Merkel has presided over some of the lowest numbers of European coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing the male-led governments of the UK, Italy, France, and Spain. It is the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who, although severely overlooked by the media, has led one of the most effective examples of virus containment in the world. Using the experience of the 2003 SARS virus outbreak, Taiwan has kept its Covid-19 rate low and Ing-wen has successfully steered the country to a sense of resumed normality. Despite making up only 5% of world leaders, female leaders have asserted themselves as some of the most able and capable figures to navigate the tribulations and crises 2020 has brought. Today’s female politicians have worked hard to dismantle the many obstacles of the glass ceiling and match male world leaders in the respect they are afforded. Margaret Thatcher, as the first female Prime Minister in Britain, was under enormous scrutiny, with the media and her fellow MPs placing significant emphasis on her looks. Regardless of her policies, an integral part of cultivating the image of a leader involved drastic changes to her hair and her clothes to visually signal her political strength in a masculine-dominated domain. Thankfully, this prescriptive sense of female leadership has dissipated; in the twenty-first century, female political figures have opted instead to leave the pearls at home and subsequently outshine their male counterparts on the international stage.