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Female leaders are winning the COVID-19 wars

Jacinda Ardern's coronavirus response might eliminate COVID-19 in New Zealand.

Jacinda Ardern COVID-19

Around the world, nations are looking to their leaders in this time of crisis and in many nations that means people are looking to women.

As CNN reports, the counties with the best responses to the coronavirus pandemic are led by women.

We can learn so much from these foreign leaders as we fight COVID-19 at home. Here's how these women are beating it:



Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg's win: Daycares + preschools have reopened

On April 20, as parents in the United States and Canada were working from home while trying to keep their kids occupied, parents in Norway were dropping their kindergarteners off at school for the first time in weeks.

This came after Prime Minister Erna Solberg's announcement in early April, when she told her people "Norway has managed to get the virus under control."

On April 15 she addressed her nation's children: "Next week, preschool children will be able to go back to their daycare centres, and the week after that, schools will reopen for children in years 1 to 4. But you will find that things are slightly different, and there will be some new rules you have to follow. This is because we want to make sure it is completely safe for you."

She told the children (and the rest of the country) that the reopening of daycares and preschools was possible because "not as many people are becoming infected as they were earlier. This is because we have all been good at following the rules, but we cannot relax completely yet."

Because Norway's numbers have been falling since mid-March (thanks to those rules Solberg implemented), some elementary and high schools will reopen next week, and post-secondary institutions will resume classes the week after that.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's win: She started fighting the virus in December

Made in Taiwan masks are now arriving in the United States, the New York Times reports thanks to the nation that has only seen six deaths from COVID-19.

The remarkable fatality figure is due in large part to President Tsai Ing-wen who took early action against the novel coronavirus. "As early as late December Taiwanese health officials were boarding flights from Wuhan to check passengers for symptoms," The Economist reports.

Tsai's pandemic preparedness began long before the novel coronavirus was a threat. Back in 2016, when tasked with choosing a running mate she picked an epidemiologist hailed as a hero during the SARS pandemic. That man, Chen Chien-Jen is now her Vice President and a resource to her in an era when many politicians dismiss experts and shun science.

President Tsai Ing-wen was ready for the pandemic of 2020, and the low death toll in her country proves it.

Sint Maarten's Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs win: Effective communication

There are only 41,000 people in the Caribbean nation of Sint Maarten and Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs is not taking a chance on her population's health.

Earlier this month Jacobs went viral when her address to the residents of Sint Maarten blew up on Twitter. "Stop moving. Simply stop moving," she says in the video. "If you do not have the type of bread you like in your house, eat crackers. If you do not have bread, eat cereal, eat oats, sardines."

Her straight to the point messaging worked. The latest update from her government states that 10 people have died from COVID-19, 12 have recovered and the nation remains on lockdown.

"Together we can do this," she explained in an address on April 19. "Each and every one of us. These regulations are not put in place to test your faith or to push you to your limits. It is a matter of protecting your life and to get our livelihood safe, so that we can continue and return to proper economic development so that we can all thrive. Now, we are in survival mode, however, the Council of Ministers together with the Ministries are working on the recovery plan for Sint Maarten, as soon as we can get COVID-19 contained. Help us to help you."

New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern's win: Only 14 COVID-19 deaths in her nation 

Jacinda Ardern made history when she was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand while pregnant and now she's making for her bold and effective measures against COVID-19.

The 39-year-old Prime Minister acted quickly when faced with this threat and as of this writing only 14 people have died from COVID-19 in her country. "New Zealand got everything right," Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist and Associate Professor at the University of Auckland told the Associated Press. "Decisive action, with strong leadership and very clear communications to everybody."

New Zealand's isolated geography and sparse population (only 5 million people) made controlling the spread of the virus easier, but experts say it was Arden's actions that made the country so successful in preventing community spread. She's not just trying to flatten the curve, she's trying to kick COVID-19 out of her country entirely.

"We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus," Ardern told her country last week, "But it will continue to need a team of 5 million behind it."

It's not easy. Schools and daycares closed and an economy based largely on tourism has been hard hit, but new research and mathematical modeling show locking down quickly and avoiding compromises worked in New Zealand's favour.

Ardern's also being praised for her crisis communication skills, taking to social media to communicate directly with her people in a remarkably transparent manner.

What America can learn from the COVID-19 wins of foreign female leaders

In an email to The Atlantic's Uri Friedman, international-relations scholar at Victoria University of Wellington and a former Defense Department under the Obama administration explained why Ardern's communications style is so impactful.

"She doesn't peddle in misinformation; she doesn't blame-shift; she tries to manage everyone's expectations at the same time [as] she offers reassuring notes,"Jackson explained. "She uses the bully pulpit to cue society toward our better angels—'Be kind to each other' and that kind of thing. I think that's more important than people realize and does trickle down into local attitudes."

In American culture compassion, kindness and responsibility are seen "consistently as valued traits for women" while strength is a valued trait in men, Pew reports. In men, about half the population sees being "caring" as a negative. For a generation of moms (and voters) trying to foster empathy and kindness in the next generation this is certainly something to consider.

In the 2018 midterm elections the United States saw many women (including mothers) elected in their Congress and gubernatorial contests, but one by one, all the women in the race for the Presidency dropped out of the race, which will now be between two men, both decades older than Jacinda Ardern and without the perspective someone raising kids can provide.

There is so much that we can learn from other countries responses to COVID-19, and the value of mothers in elected office is one of them.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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