Women who inspire: Leading through a pandemic

When we look at the global response to COVID-19, female leaders are shining.
Image: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at the ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans on July 6, 2019.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at the ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans on July 6, 2019.Paras Griffin / Getty Images for ESSENCE
By Lindsay Hoffman and Caroline Kim

From New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, female leaders have excelled in displaying a governance and communication during the pandemic that has inspired and set an example for supporters and critics alike. Here are just a few women that are leading through the pandemic:

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media about changing the 2020 general election date during a press conference at the Parliament in Wellington on August 17, 2020. MARTY MELVILLE / AFP - Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became the world’s youngest female head of government when she was elected in 2017 at age 37. As the leader of the Labor Party, her governance style and authenticity has inspired many around the world. During the height of COVID-19, she was applauded for her decisive yet sensitive handling of the pandemic using empathy and compassion. According to a recent Newshub-Reid poll, Ardern is the most popular leader in a century, thanks in part to her COVID-19 response that made the country among the most successful in curbing the spread of the disease.

I think one of the sad things that I’ve seen in political leadership is – because we’ve placed over time so much emphasis on notions of assertiveness and strength – that we probably have assumed that it means you can’t have those other qualities of kindness and empathy. And yet, when you think about all the big challenges that we face in the world, that’s probably the quality we need the most. -- Prime Minister Jacinda Adern

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Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announces a 9 PM curfew on May 30, 2020 in Atlanta.Ben Gray / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file

As a lifelong public servant, Mayor Bottoms is the only Mayor in Atlanta’s history to have served all three branches of government, serving as a judge and City Councilmember before being sworn in as Mayor. Bottoms has drawn upon personal experience to address recent unrest over police violence and discuss the issues in an empathetic way that has resonated across the U.S. After George Floyd’s death, Bottoms called out looters and rioters in a powerful yet vulnerable speech that catapulted her into the spotlight and shook the nation.

We cannot wait for some other time, some other place, some other heroes. We must be the heroes of our generation. -- Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

Co-founder of Campaign Zero, Brittany Packnett Cunningham.Pure Black Photography, courtesy of Brittany Packnett Cunningham

Campaign Zero co-founder, NBC News and MSNBC Contributor and two-time Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, Brittany Packnett Cunningham has committed her life to activism for education and justice. Cited by President Barack Obama as a leader whose "voice is going to be making a difference for years to come," Brittany has increasingly become a sought-after voice in the work of social change and empowerment. As racial justice movements broke out across the country, Brittany jumped into battle, using her platform to speak on actionable legislation and next steps to protesting.

If the roots of the tree are rotten, then the fruits of the tree are rotten. And the fruits may be all different kinds, but the work is not just to take down the fruit or tear off the branches. The work is to uproot the tree and then move the tree and plant it in soil that bares fruit for all of us and not just some of us. -- Brittany Packnett Cunningham

President Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at a campaign event in Changhua, Taiwan, on Jan. 7, 2020.Ann Wang / Reuters

Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-Wen has been involved in government service since the early 1990s when she was appointed as a trade-policy adviser in the administration of President Lee Teng-hui. After taking on various roles in politics over the years, she was chosen as the first woman president of the DPP party from 2008-2012. She successfully rebuilt the DPP after its defeat and was reelected to the post in 2014. In addition to being Taiwan’s first woman president, Tsai also became only the second person to win the presidency who was not a member of the KMT. In addition, she was the first person with ancestry in one of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities (Hakka) to attain that office.

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Tsai undertook rigorous investigative efforts to contain the contagion before mass community outbreak was possible. She allowed public-health professionals to guide the severity of her response, and has adamant that COVID-19 is a humanitarian disaster, requiring the joint efforts of all countries. Although Taiwan has been excluded from the WHO and the U.N., she remains committed to utilize her country’s manufacturing, medicinal and technological advances to work with the world during the pandemic.

Democracy is not just an election. It is our daily life. -- President Tsai Ing-wen

Prime Minister Sanna Marin

Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Sanna Marin attends a meeting at the European Council in Brussels on Dec. 2, 2019.Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

When elected as Finland’s Prime Minister last December, Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest head of government at 34 years old. Formerly Finland's Minister of Transport and Communications, Marin entered politics aged just 27 and became an MP in 2015 at 30.

At the start of the pandemic, Sanna Marin made a bold move to call on social media influencers to harness their networks and get people to #FlattenTheCurve. Aware that government communication doesn’t always reach or get through to everyone, Marin used the power of social media to spread news and information related to the pandemic. This practical and innovative strategy, bolstered by the Finnish healthcare system’s high state of preparedness translated to 85 percent of Finns supporting her handling of the pandemic – an admirable level of confidence in these uncertain times.

I have never thought about my age or gender, I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate. -- Prime Minister Sanna Marin