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Women at the front lines

| Friday, April 24, 2020

Women are responding to the pandemic with a daring, yet humble attitude. The roles that women are taking on to help end the COVID-19 crisis are making the headlines across the world. In fact, it seems that women are facing heightened risks of exposure during these challenging times, primarily due to a disproportionate representation among social or health care services.

Women are nurses, doctors, midwives and clerks. They have been jostled to the frontlines of this outbreak … and they are getting things done. They are leading with an invaluable communal response, and they should be celebrated for it.

COVID-19 is relentlessly testing every boundary and highlighting every fault that taints the country. As the virus threatens millions, a profoundly critical issue seems to have resurfaced: women lack true representation in halls of power.

We need a government that looks like the people, a government that looks like these brave women taking charge to help alleviate the consequences of this crisis. Soraya Chemaly, author of “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger,”  states bluntly, “Feminine people aren’t born with a natural affinity for scrubbing toilets or changing diapers, and yet here we are, doing most of the toilet scrubbing and diaper changing.”

It is long past time for us to recognize that the world is in dire need of more women leaders and equal representation of women at all levels of politics. At the very least, these women who are succeeding in controlling this pandemic should make us realize that gender equality is pertinent when it comes to maintaining global public health and international security.

CNN recently published an article in which Leta Hong Fincher analyzed the diverse actions taken in responses to COVID-19 and how women leaders were doing a “disproportionately great” job at handling the situation.

Her findings revealed that, aside from multi-party democracies and high levels of public trust in the government, the countries successfully responding to the pandemic had one thing in common: their response was led by women.

Four of the five Nordic countries, which revealed drastically lower death rates when compared to Europe, are led by women. In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest leader, received an 85% approval rating among Finns for her preparedness for the pandemic with only 59 deaths in a population of 5.5 million.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, took early action to impose a month-long lockdown on the entire country. New Zealand has witnessed only nine deaths since then.

In Taiwan, early intervention measures have controlled the coronavirus pandemic so successfully that the nation is now exporting millions of face masks to help the European Union and others.

Fincher also contrasts these interventions with those of Sweden — the only Nordic country led by a man. Sweden’s death rate has soared far higher than that of most other European countries.

The research findings are there, the activists are there, the campaigns are there and, yet as of January 2020, only 10 of 152 elected heads of state were women. Also, men made up 75% of parliamentarians, 73% of managerial decision-makers and 76% of the people in mainstream news media.

In response to these devastating numbers, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka expresses her discontent, “We have created a world where women are squeezed into just 25% — in parliaments and in other critical decision-making spaces one quarter — of the space, both in physical decision-making rooms, and in the stories that we tell about our lives. One quarter is not enough.”

As Future Women Academy so gracefully voices, “Our challenge now is to challenge the unequal world we inhabit. To do so with impact, we must first unpack and unfold, breakdown and breakthrough.”

Women (and men) have the incessant duty to challenge the unequal world we inhabit. The truth is that this is always difficult, often uncomfortable and even sometimes painful or disappointing. But this fight is an essential prerequisite to make this world fairer and more gender-inclusive.

We have all seen women trying to find a public voice particularly by unveiling their vulnerabilities and telling their stories. Women are building up the courage to speak up and to share their experiences and innovative ideas. And by telling story, after story, after story, they try to show the world what being a woman truly means.

Unfortunately, when women and power are addressed in the same sentence, there is still a level of condescension. Yet, women have immense power and tremendous potential. It is crucial that these already-empowered characters be nurtured and revealed unfearfully.

So, for my last column of the year, this is what I want to end with: dear girls, dear women, you are forces of nature. Please, dare greatly.


Krista Lourdes Akiki is currently part of the Mendoza College of Business. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she discovers new lifestyles and navigates new cities. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @akikikrista

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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