International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women’s Leadership During COVID-19

“Stop moving. Simply stop moving.”

Sint Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs didn’t mince words last April when announcing a ban on nonessential movement to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Caribbean island.

Her address, in which she dismissed a number of excuses people were using to not follow social distancing rules, quickly went viral and earned her praise for her decisive action to put in place tough policies that saved lives.

This International Women’s Day, we are honoring Jacobs and the many women leaders who spent this past year doing exactly that — making the tough decisions it takes to bring us closer to ending the pandemic.

Alongside Jacobs, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen are just some of the women leaders who have been praised for their handling of the crisis. They have taken a hard stance, rational and evidence-based, if not always popular. They led by putting the health and wellbeing of their citizens first. And the results speak for themselves.

At the same time, women have displayed extraordinary leadership in researching COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a key scientist on the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine research team, and Dr. Özlem Türeci, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer on its vaccine, are just some of the women at the forefront of life-saving research.

And the list goes on. Women showed up in so many ways — as academics, advocates, organizers, journalists, essential workers and more.

Above all, we must not forget the women who make up the majority of the health workforce, often on the frontlines around the globe, and who have been saving lives during the pandemic while putting their own on the line. Without them, the number of lives tragically lost due to COVID-19 would be even larger than it already is.

This International Women’s Day, we highlight the accomplishments of women leaders, along with research showing the positive health outcomes of having women lead, whether in politics or health. Doing so isn’t just a way to celebrate, but to counter sexist notions that still hold women back from leadership positions. We can’t forget that despite being 70% of the global healthcare workforce, women only hold 25% of leadership positions in global health.

We call on the global health community to join us in our work to support women to realize their full potential and close the leadership gender gap. This looks different for everyone — just pick something and start. Advocate for yourself or someone else in your workplace, urge your organization to examine its policies and practices, agree to support a woman leader, as a peer or mentor, or find ways to organize women and male allies in your community. This won’t just create a more just society, but a healthier one too.