Jean-Jacques Cornish

Why have women leaders done better at dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic?

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by Jean-Jacques Cornish

Assailed by things deadly, horrible, inexplicable and invisible we naturally ask why?

That plaintive question bridges, race, gender, class, identity and education.

Why is COVID 19 killing more men than women?

Why is the accursed virus proving more deadly to minorities in the northern hemisphere countries were it now rages?

My guess is we will still be asking these and other questions by the time a vaccine is discovered and tested.

One recurring question, however, bears immediate examination: why are women leaders dealing with the pandemic better than men.

I think immediately of Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Finland’s Sanna Marin, Norway’s Erna Solberg, Iceland’s Katrin Jakobsdottir and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen.

They constitute a healthy slice of the 7% of female heads of government on the planet.

How does one judge a leader’s performance in the worst international crisis since World War II?

It might actually be too bold to make a judgement before we can more accurately gauge the economic disaster brought on by the virus and the lockdown to keep it out.

We might have to reconsider after seeing what is left of the economies that were opened up..

But for now we know that the severity of the pandemic is determined by three things: population density, exposure to travelers carrying the virus across borders and the speed with which borders were closed and people forced into lockdown.

Leadership had little to do with the first two points, but it can be judged on the third.

The severity of the pandemic was substantially lower when leaders acted sooner to lockdown – even by a week.

This flattened the curve , reduced the RO factor which is the  number of people each coronavirus victim infects and prevented new cases.

There were male leaders who acted swiftly. 

But those who stand out now: US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister  Boris Johnson and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro down-played the risk of COVID 19 until it was too late.

By contrast each of the woman mentioned above acted days sometime weeks ahead of their neighbours.

In doing so they took the  bold and unpopular step of closing down life as they knew it against an invisible enemy.

Despite the dishonest bluster and backsliding of their President, 80% of American males still picked men  when asked to name leaders they most admire.

Nearly three-quarters of men believe they are more intelligent than their peers.

By comparison 57% of woman believe they are smarter than average.n

They don’t suffer the over-confidence of men, preferring to seek input and listen in order to make decisions that support communities.

They engage diverse advisers and a wide network of opinions, building teams rather than trusting their own judgement and instincts as men tend to do.

Women acknowledged for being “other directed” and emotionally intelligent are showing themselves in this crisis to be every bit as  decisive and transformational as men by excelling on vision, inspiration, direction setting and thinking outside the box.

Perhaps there is something instinctive about turning to a woman in matters of physical hurt.

When you grazed your knee, bumped your head or cut your finger, who did you turn to first?

Why, Mum, of course.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.