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FPI Coffee Hour | Women's Leadership in a Global Crisis

May 13, 2020

Cinnamon Dornsife, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Shamila Chaudhary, FPI Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins SAIS

FPI Senior Fellow Cinnamon Dornsife and FPI Fellow Shamila Chaudhary discuss the challenges and successes of female international leaders during the COVID-19 crisis as part of the Foreign Policy Institute’s Coffee Hour webinar series.

Chaudhary calls on people to not be so essentialist in their understanding of gender and political power. She argues that the leaders’ response to a crisis is not a product of the crisis but a product of what has happened before the crisis. Furthermore, the crisis response is a product of the relationship between the leaders, their governments, the people, the stakeholders, and the public square. The public square refers to the culture of expression, democracy, and engagement between the state institutions and leadership. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen have garnered much public attention for their success in responding to the crisis. According to Chaudhary, these leaders exhibit certain qualities such as good management and communications skills and empathy that stand in contrast with what populist movements are prioritizing in leadership. 

Chaudhary argues that people tend to look at women’s leadership in a linear and hierarchical way. However, she said that the qualities of resilience, courage, flexibility, good listening and communication skills that many local leaders possess is exactly what is needed when confronted with a global crisis. In an example of local leadership in India, Chaudhary explained how women organizations and women leaders used their experience as a disenfranchised group to build networks to respond to crises. She indicated that crisis management is not just knowing the right thing to do when in a bad situation, but actually having systems in place to support each other and to respond to whatever situation. Chaudhary concluded by stating the public noticed that certain qualities tend to be possessed by women because they had to use all those skills in their experience of being a woman.