By: Margaret Rice

Published on September 15, 2022

The burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted and exacerbated global shortcomings such as continued gender inequities, as women worldwide have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.[1] Women make up the majority of the health care workforce worldwide,[2] and at the onset of the pandemic the majority of frontline workers were women.[3] Economically, women were more likely to experience pandemic-related job loss, and these economic impacts were amplified by the fact that even prior to the pandemic, the majority of low-paying jobs were held by women.[4]

The pandemic increased the burden of care work such as childcare, which was disproportionately taken up by women.[5] The preexisting gender imbalance in unpaid domestic labor also increased as a result of the pandemic.[6]Additionally, there has been a noted increase in gender-based violence correlated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with factors such as mandatory lockdowns, social isolation, and financial strain contributing to increased risk for women at risk of experiencing violence.[7] As a consequence of these factors and other negative impacts felt disproportionately by gender, the pandemic is expected to increase the gender-poverty gap, pushing more women and girls into poverty.[8]

            These and similar trends that have disproportionate impacts by gender have been observed worldwide, and are representative of widening gender inequities due to the economic and social instability created worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic.[9] The impacts of these inequities are currently being felt by women and girls around the world and have the potential to set back years of hard-won progress towards gender equality.[10] It has long been established that global gender equity and the empowerment of women uplifts us all; therefore, the widening gender inequities as a result of COVID-19 have the dangerous potential to impede pandemic recovery and inhibit social and economic progress on a global scale.[11]

            The impact felt by COVID-19 on women and girls, in addition to having social and economic effects worldwide, must be addressed. To do so, it is helpful to learn from the pandemic response to mitigate the effects moving forwards and better understand how to prevent them in the future. As the global response to the pandemic has unfolded over the past years, a notable trend has emerged: though the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, women in leadership positions have in turn had a tremendous COVID-19 response.[12]

One year into the pandemic it was widely recognized in the media[13] that although their number is few[14], many nations with women heads of state had more effective responses to the crisis, and in many cases experienced better outcomes as a result.[15] Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand has been widely recognized for her swift and comprehensive response to COVID-19, as she enforced one of the earliest lockdowns in the pandemic, efforts which have led to some of the world’s best outcomes.[16] Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has also been recognized for leading a swift and decisive response that led to reporting some of the best health outcomes in the pandemic.[17] In Europe, leaders including Angela Merkel of Germany, Erna Solberg of Norway, Sanna Marin of Finland, and Mette Frederiksen of Denmark have each been recognized for their communication and transparency in COVID response efforts that resulted in better outcomes than many other European nations.[18]

Of course, there are a great number of factors that impact the efficacy of pandemic response for all nations, and there are several nations with male leaders that have also been recognized for their responsive and effective response to the pandemic, it is however a striking trend that few female-led nations have suffered a poor pandemic response.[19] The relationship between female leaders and the efficacy of pandemic response is supported by a study conducted in the U.K., which found that COVID-19 outcomes were significantly better in women-led nations.[20] The study explains that this significant difference may be due in part to proactive and coordinated policies of the female leaders.[21]

It is important to note that the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic by gender effect more than just women, and the response to these issues must be inclusive of the full spectrum of gender identity and sexuality.[22] The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on many historically marginalized groups including BIPOC communities and low-income individuals.[23] Additionally, in the pursuit of global equity and progress, gender is only one of the many social, cultural, and economic factors that are important for leadership.

While the pandemic has aggravated many of our global shortcomings, it also provides an unprecedented opportunity for learning and growth. The COVID-19 pandemic presented the world with challenges, and our leaders with problems unlike any they had ever seen. The disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women, and the impact women leaders have made in return, highlights the necessity of diverse leadership from individuals that are representative of the populations they represent. The impact of female leaders during this global crisis supports the importance of representation in leadership, and the potential benefits we could all gain if individuals with diverse and intersectional perspectives lead us through the COVID-19 pandemic and into a more equitable future.

[1] See generally Anu Madgavkar et al, COVID-19 & Gender Equality: Countering the Regressive Effects, McKinsey & Co. (July 15, 2020 7), (explaining how women faced less job security during the COVID-19 pandemic).

[2] See World Health Organization, Value Gender and Equity in the Global Health Workforce,,around%205%20billion%20people%20worldwide(last visited July 29, 2022) (noting that women consist of 70% of health workers worldwide, while approximately 75% of leadership positions in health care are held by men).

[3] Org. for Econ. Coop. & Dev., Women at the Core of the Fight Against COVID-19 Crisis, 2, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (April 2020), (hereinafter OECD).

[4] See United Nations Women, COVID-19 and its Economic Toll on Women: The Story Behind the Numbers, UN Women(Sept. 16, 2020),

[5] See generally Claire Cane Miller, The Pandemic Created a Childcare Crisis: Mothers Bore the Burden, N.Y. Times(May 17, 2021),“When the pandemic created a child-care crisis, mothers became the default solution.”).

[6] See OECD, supra note 3 at 2 (noting that women worldwide are estimated to do as much as ten times more care work in comparison to men); see also Care Work: Increased Burdens for Women, UN Women, (last visited July 29, 2022) (hereinafter UN Women Care Work)(explain that mothers have taken on more childcare responsibility after daycares and schools closed due to COVID-19).

[7] United Nations Women, Gender Based Violence: Women & Girls at Risk, UN Women, (last visited July 29, 2022).

[8] Cf. United Nations Women, Employment & Poverty: Economic Fallout Hits Women Hard, UN Women, (last visited July 29, 2022).

[9] See generally United Nations Women, COVID-19: Rebuilding for Resilience, UN Women, (last visited July 29, 2022)(explain disproportionate impact COVID is having on women and girls and why specific gender based solutions are necessary) .

[10] Id.

[11] See generally Sylvie Bossoutrot, Gender Equality: Why it Matters, Especially in a Time of Crisis, The World Bank(Apr 13, 2020) (demonstrating the negative effects of gender inequity); see United Nations, Gender Equality: Why it Matters, United Nations (Sept. 2018), (.

[12] See generally Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, What do Countries with the Best Coronavirus Responses Have in Common? Women Leaders, Forbes (Apr. 13, 2020),

[13] See generally Allyson Bear & Roselle Agner, Why More Countries Need Female Leaders, U.S. News & World Report (Mar 8, 2021),

[14] United Nations Women, Facts & Figures: Women’s Leadership and Political Participation, UN Women (last updated Jan 15, 2021), (noting that only 24 nations currently have woman head of state, and global gender equality of heads of state is expected to take another 130 yeas).

[15] See Jon Henley, Female-Led Countries Handled Coronavirus Better, Study Suggests, The Guardian (Aug. 18, 2020),

[16] See generally Suze Wilson, Three Reasons Why Jacinda Ardern’s Coronavirus Response has been a Masterclass in Crisis Leadership, The Conversation (Apr 5, 2020),

[17] See James Griffiths, Taiwan’s Coronavirus Response is Among the Best Globally, CNN (Apr 5, 2020),

[18] See Wittenberg-Cox, supra note 12.

[19] Cf. Jon Henley & Eleanor Ainge Roy, Are Female Leaders More Successful at Managing the Coronavirus Crisis?, The Guardian (Apr 25, 2021),

[20] Supriya Garikipati & Uma Kambhampati, Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter?, SSRN (June 3, 2020),

[21] See id.

[22] See generally Lindsey Dawson, Ashley Kirzinger, & Jennifer Kates, The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBT People, Kasier Family Foundation (Mar. 11, 2021),

[23] Neeta Kantamneni, The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Marginalized Populations in the United States, 119 J Vocat. Behav. (June 2020),

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