The Importance of Women Leaders in Health Policy

Countries with the best pandemic responses all have one thing in common: a strong presence of female leadership. At a time where health policies and swift action are the differences between life and death of citizens, several women like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel have made headlines — and for the right reasons. They’ve introduced well-crafted responses and plans in attempts to curb the spread of the virus and prevent their economies from crashing. In positions traditionally issued to men, these women continue to prove how their knowledge and leadership in health policy are vital.

Awareness and decisiveness

Behind one of the fastest and most effective COVID-19 responses is Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen. This was due in large part to her decisive health policies at the first sign of the new illness. Tsai implemented 124 countermeasures—including the mandatory wearing of masks and strict border controls—against the pandemic without resorting to lockdowns that became commonplace everywhere else in the world.

For context, Taiwan has a similar population size to Australia, whose pandemic response has also been successful. Both have strong trade and transport links with mainland China, where the virus is thought to have originated. However, within a 10-week period, Australia already had almost 5,000 confirmed cases whereas Taiwan had less than 400. Similarly, Jacinda Ardern was able to manage the pandemic in New Zealand astonishingly early by imposing self-isolation on citizens entering the country and barring foreigners entirely. Both women’s foresight saved their countries from the viral storm.

Women banding together

It’s important for women in health policy to collaborate with female leaders in their respective fields. This much is evident in popular partnerships like that of Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama. Their advocacy led them to work with several government, philanthropic, and grassroots organizations to come up with legislation to help improve healthcare for young women. Women in healthcare also provide a humane way of thinking about patients, asking questions like “What is this person going through” and “What matters to this person?”

This is particularly important today as female public health professionals—physicians, nurses, and caregivers—are at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus. In fact, one of the most important nursing careers recently has been public health nursing. These professionals are in charge of the overall health of a specific population. They consider the community’s access to education, socioeconomic standing, and their background, together with the health aspect. These women are not just health experts, but they’re also community leaders in their own right. Working with other women in the healthcare field lets policymakers and public figures amplify the right issues. In addition to clinical expertise, they can get crucial information from real people and situations from female healthcare professionals.

Empathy in health policy

We know that empathy isn’t a trait unique to women. However, the care and empathy displayed by female leaders in the past year have proven that thinking about people as valued members of society instead of just statistics could make all the difference in coming up with health policy solutions.

If there’s anything that the women’s leadership amidst the current health crisis has taught us, it’s that health policies need to put people’s best interest first.

Article exclusively written for

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Rose Jordyn is a mental health advocate and feminist. She loves to write about subject matters that are important to her and her advocacies. When she's not working on a new piece, you'll find her enjoying her local spin class.

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