I got a lesson in geo-politics from a pair of 12-year-old drama queens the other day. Deputising for a neighbour on the after-school walk home, I asked the standard adult question – so what did you learn today? “Women are better at everything,” came the immediate reply from the bossy one.
Why is that, I ventured. “Because they were smarter with Covid-19,” said her mate, adding that my face mask was too loose. And why were they smarter, said I. “All sorts of reasons,” interjected bossy boots. “Just Google it, we’ve got a Zoom nativity play to rehearse.”
Turns out this pair of mini-Thatchers were on the money – female leaders across the globe have set a distinctly high bar of excellence when it comes to battling Covid-19. Any reading of the most successful pandemic power plays during the past nine months immediately throws up four super proficient women – New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen and Sanna Marin of Finland. Germany’s Angela Merkel also deserves space on this female-only pantheon.
Wielding their power with a primary emphasis on humanity, they rapidly plugged the major gaps in their respective systems while male leaders dithered and debated as the Covid wolf gnawed at the door.
Managing the delicate balancing act of being risk averse with human lives while playing canny poker hands with their economies, these women succeeded in winning the ultimate game of two halves – minimum deaths and maximum popular support. “Global crises test the fabric of the international community, stretching us at the seams and threatening to tear us apart,” the Taiwanese premier pointed out. “We must set aside our differences and work together for the benefit of humankind.”
As the only European country not to suffer a second Covid-19 wave this autumn, Finland’s Sanna Marin spoke a similar truth: “Closing an economy and people’s workplaces will cause political instability. Populists come with easy answers to difficult problems, but their solutions are rarely the right ones.”
As New Zealand imposed a lockdown streets ahead of the global reaction to the virus, Prime Minister Ardern uttered a rallying cry I hadn’t heard since my junior rugby days: “Go hard and go early.”
Yet, while women make up over 70pc of the world’s health workforce, seven out of 10 global health leaders are men. At the current rate of change, it will take over half a century to reach gender parity in global health senior management.
If ever there was a time to step up progress for women’s leadership, it is now, according UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Jane Mohammed: “Those who make decisions and allocate funding have the power to choose who will benefit. But too often the answer is men.”
So what kind of world would emerge if leadership transferred from the centuries-old stranglehold of male dominance, one wonders? There’s no doubt in the mind of former US president Barack Obama: “I’m absolutely confident if every nation on earth was run by women for two years, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything.”
Or, as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made”.
I switched off Google and pondered what kind of world those two bossy boots 12-year-olds will fashion for themselves by 2040.
All things considered, I’d have to say – the kids are all right.
Simply the best
It’s been a week of Maradona, but he wasn’t actually the greatest. My father, GAA to his toenails, was unexpectedly at Wembley for the 1968 European Cup final between Benfica and Manchester United – his only ever game of soccer. “George Best is up there with Mick O’Connell for skill and sporting intelligence.”
That was worship of an astral order in our house.