A LOT of focus in the media over the past year has centred around how individual leaders across the globe have handled this relentless pandemic.

Leadership has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the responsible to the deadly. At one end there is Angela Merkel’s impassioned pre-Christmas plea to the German people to adhere to social distancing and drastically reduce contacts and at the other the travesty of Trump and his self-interested abandonment of the American people to their viral fate.

One sub-story has been to note that female leaders seem to be significantly better at pandemic crisis management than their male counterparts. A new report published on PLOS One scientific journal “interrogates” this narrative to discover whether countries led by women have truly fared better during the global storm than those led by men. It’s called Gender In The Time Of Covid-19: Evaluating National Leadership and Covid-19 Fatalities and its findings, on the surface, may come as a surprise and indeed as a disappointment.

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This report records that there is actually very little difference in the numbers of reported deaths between women-led and men-led countries. It notes that while certain female leaders have shown “impressive governance” during the pandemic, and finds some limited support for lower reported fatality rates in countries led by women, it concludes these are not statistically significant. Female leaders have not saved more lives.

To properly evaluate gendered policy-making, studies would need a far larger sample. Having only 16 female leaders across the globe is not enough to make comprehensive conclusions on who makes a better leader in humanity’s hour of need; countries led by men far outnumber countries led by women and thus the sample (rather like society itself) is rigged by gender.

In addition, the report concludes that “the perspective that women have been better leaders during the pandemic is rooted in selection bias, based on selective reporting of cases where women-led countries have succeeded in pandemic management, and are focused on OECD countries”.

The report cites Vietnam, a male-led country with 97 million people and a land border with China. It has had barely 1000 Covid-19 cases and fewer than 40 deaths. But you probably haven’t heard too much about Vietnam’s success in the western media.

Other factors such as the size of countries with female PMs, are important. The poster girl of effective governance is New Zealand, where the dazzling Jacinda Ardern comprehensively locked down and closed borders early doors and thus eliminated the virus. However, this reveals not just a robust pandemic response but the advantage of having to deal with a smaller population on a remote island nation.

It’s a far different story from managing the millions of authority suspicious, neurotic, red-necked Americans with national borders south and north. And that would have been the case even if there had not been a narcissistic nutjob in charge. It would have been a challenge even for a FDR or a JFK.

It is true that Hillary Clinton might have fared better as president but how much better? Similarly, and much closer to home, Nicola Sturgeon has vastly outperformed bumbling Boris in communication skills but her policy delivery and outcomes have been depressingly similar.

These results may seem at first glance to be a bit of a blow to the pursuit of sex-based equality and representation and arguments that highlight the importance of women’s contribution across all levels of society. But a closer look at the report’s conclusions based on empirical research and data actually highlight some fascinating key factors in the drive to understand why it is so vital that women claim their place at the top table.

As Clare Wenham, assistant professor in global health policy at the London School of Economics points out, the data in this report shows that some female leaders have managed the pandemic well, not because they are women per se, but because they are leading countries which are more likely to elect a woman in the first place.

Countries where “core cultural values reward traits found in women leaders” including a more “collectivist” rather than individualist approach, a long-term view rather than short term, nations with “fewer power disparities” across their society where policies are already in place that help them manage risk better through preparation.

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This is important because it suggests that in countries where women’s voices are stymied or under-represented, there are other systemic and structural issues across the board which prevent equality and fairness. So, when something big and disruptive comes along, these countries are not equipped to cope as well as they could. It’s a holistic versus narrow approach – when those who govern do not represent those whom they govern, the bigger picture is lost, vital input is missing, and thus decision-making and planning is skewed to the detriment of all society. Without inclusion, we are all incomplete.

It reminds me of the famous proverb rooted in Swahili and other African cultures that “it takes a village to raise a child”. Wise words, which recognise the collective effort that goes into childrearing, the importance of not just the parents, or leaders in this context, but of the extended family and community too. It highlights the worth of creating a society where children can grow in a healthy and safe environment, supported, nurtured, allowed to spread their wings and make their own decisions based on a firm foundation of love.

Now just having a female leader is not enough to create that sort of country – it was after all Margaret Thatcher who once suggested “there’s no such thing as society”. However, that sort of socially cohesive country is more likely to be comfortable with electing and respecting female leaders in business, academia and in politics, to have core cultural values of fairness, equality, and respect, looking out for one another, making sacrifices for the greater good. In this regard Scotland is certainly not perfect, and we have a very, very long way to go to address existing power disparities in terms of poverty as well as genuine representation. But being “collectivist” is surely something positive to build on as we embark on another lockdown. And something positive to take into our new future post-pandemic too. Keep true to that faith, Scotland.