Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World

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Women in Leadership

Written By: Gogula Madhavi Lakshmi


Women’s leadership brings essential knowledge, skills, resources, and experience to emergency response and resilience building. When women are involved in the development and implementation of COVID-19 response plans they are more likely to consider the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on women and girls. The theme celebrates the tremendous efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, and the flagship Generation Equality campaign, which calls for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end all forms of violence against women and girls, and health-care services that respond to their needs.

Women stand at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers, and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic. The crisis has highlighted both the centrality of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry.

Women leaders and women’s organizations have demonstrated their skills, knowledge, and networks to effectively lead in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Today there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives, and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies, and laws that work better for all.

The majority of the countries that have been more successful in stemming the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic and responding to its health and broader socio-economic impacts are headed by women. For instance, Heads of Government in Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Slovakia have been widely recognized for the rapidity, decisiveness, and effectiveness of their national response to COVID-19, as well as the compassionate communication of fact-based public health information.

Yet, women are Heads of State and Government in only 20 countries worldwide.[1] In addition to persistent pre-existing social and systemic barriers to women’s participation and leadership, new barriers have emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the world, women are facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties, unemployment, and poverty. Despite women making up a majority of front-line workers, there is a disproportionate and inadequate representation of women in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces.

To uphold women’s rights and fully leverage the potential of women’s leadership in pandemic preparedness and response, the perspectives of women and girls in all of their diversity must be integrated into the formulation and implementation of policies and programs in all spheres and at all stages of pandemic response and recovery.

Around the Asia Pacific region, and globally, women have been leading COVID-19 responses in their communities and countries. Making decisions, developing policies, and implementing plans to ensure that the needs of women and girls are not forgotten, and that response and recovery are inclusive of all. From health workers treating COVID-19 patients to service providers supporting survivors of violence; from Prime Ministers leading national COVID-19 responses to women serving on community resilience groups, women are leading work to strengthen resilience and build back better from this pandemic. But we need more of them.

This International Women’s Day UNDRR’s Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction and UN Women’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific will co-host a virtual event highlighting the need for women’s leadership in COVID-19 recovery, and recognizing the women who have played an essential role in their country’s COVID-19 response.

As part of this event, UN Women and the Humanitarian Advisory Group will launch a new framework that tracks the progress and impact of women’s leadership and meaningful participation in COVID-19 responses in Asia and the Pacific. The framework builds on data from women’s rights organizations and women-led organizations and helps to shed light not only on the need to strengthen women’s leadership but how to harmonize COVID-19 response efforts across numerous actors to effectively integrate women’s leadership in approaches to programming.

Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world will be the theme for International Women’s Day 2021. As announced by UN Women, it aims to celebrate the women and girls of the world who, during the pandemic, demonstrated the importance of their frontline contributions across all sectors. Although it has been demonstrated that women have ample innovative and leadership capacities, that they” bring different experiences, perspectives, and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies, and laws”, the new barriers that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, in addition to the pre-existing social and systemic barriers, hinder their participation and leadership in the public life of their communities.

The Union for the Mediterranean is joining the initiative by organizing an international online seminar on 5 March, entitled Women in Leadership, towards an equal region in a COVID-19 world, to discuss the importance of bridging the leadership gap and empowering women to achieve gender equality in decision-making. The main topics will be “Women in business, entrepreneurship and the digital economy”, “Food security: women in agriculture” and “Women and the health care sector”.

Interacts has been working for years to advocate for and contribute to a greater presence of women in leadership positions, especially in the cultural sector, to question from a critically constructive viewpoint authority and hierarchies, cultural practices and languages, societal models that are defined and organized solely around economy and productivity, and to pave the way for the paradigm shifts necessary in the current situation. Despite the evidence, numerous inequalities and barriers remain, thus hindering women’s access to prominent roles in the cultural sector, as shown in the reports Gender Inequality in Cultural Occupation in Catalonia, 2019) and Gender Equality: Gender Balance in the Cultural and Creative Sectors (Voices of Culture, 2019).

Interarts’ work in this regard has been developed through different projects and activities: increasing the management and networking capacities of women’s organizations fighting against gender-based violence in the Eastern Caribbean with the DECIDES Caribbean project; coordinating projects such as SouthMed WiA to enhance the role of women in the audiovisual sector in the Southern Mediterranean countries, providing them with different tools; working at the forefront in the activities of the Disorderly Women network, the international alliance of women leaders in culture.


COVID-19 was an exogenous shock that dramatically affected individuals, organizations, and societies. We leveraged this life-and-death pandemic to reexamine the growing postulate in the literature that women seem to be more effective leaders than men in a crisis. We focused on U.S. governors for they face extraordinary leadership trials during COVID-19.

In addition to decision-making under uncertainty, governors need to reassure and persuade state residents to volitionally follow through on the orders, even when they come with rare personal costs, for example, social distancing. We found that states with women governors had fewer COVID-19 deaths than states with men governors, and when governors issued an early stay-at-home order, states with women governors were more responsive, as borne out by fewer COVID-19 deaths.

The qualitative analysis indicated a potential mechanism for that effect may be that women governors were more empathetic and confident, as shown in their briefings. Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the gender leadership dynamics discussed and examined herein are likely to unfold when uncertainty permeates business and society.