KK Shailaja, Jacinda Ardern, Barkha Dutt and Other Women Who Took on 2020 Like a Boss


KK Shailaja, Jacinda Ardern, Barkha Dutt and Other Women Who Took on 2020 Like a Boss

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

2020 will be remembered for the nightmare of a year it has been worldwide. However, despite the pandemic and political tension, inspiring women have risen above it all and been a beacon of hope as we strive to find our way through the new normal.

While Indian politicians struggled to adapt and recoup from the coronavirus pandemic, Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja rose as the exception to the norm. Felicitated by the United Nations for her contributions to “flatten the curve”, the “Corona Slayer” ranked #1 on British magazine Prospect‘s “The World’s Top 50 Thinkers for the Covid-19 Age” list and was recently named among Financial Times’ readers’ list of most influential women of 2020.

Featured as one of the “Women Of The Year”, the health minister also graced the cover of fashion magazine Vogue. “There’s no time to be scared. More than fear, I feel an enthusiasm to get involved,” she stated with determination. The forward-thinking minister previously helped curb the spread of the infectious Nipah virus outbreak in 2018.

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And KK Shailaja wasn’t the only woman politician to successfully tackle the pandemic. While the healthcare system and economies across multiple countries collapsed under the weight of Covid-19, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood victorious. The 39-year-old imposed strict self-isolation in the country when only six coronavirus cases had been detected. Even at its peak, the island country had only 89 cases a day.

From holding informal but informative Facebook Live chats to assure her citizens, to comforting the children by stating that the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny count as essential workers, Ardern’s compassionate response and empathetic leadership won hearts over.

Another woman leader who attracted praise for braving the coronavirus pandemic has been Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Listed as #1 on Forbes‘ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2020”, Merkel’s leadership and background as a scientist worked in the country’s favor as Germany fared relatively better than other West European countries like Italy and Spain.

In an article titled “The Secret to Germany’s COVID-19 Success: Angela Merkel Is a Scientist”, The Atlantic described the chancellor as “less a commander in chief and more a scientist in chief”. With the holiday season arriving, the Chancellor appealed to the citizens to take additional measures and follow through with restrictions.

While the pandemic brought life to an uncertain standstill, Kurdish-origin Dr Özlem Türeci, along with her husband Dr Ugur Sahin, developed the first vaccine against the coronavirus. BioNTech, founded by the husband-wife duo, was mostly focused on cancer treatments. However, with the coronavirus outbreak, the biotech start-up partnered with Pfizer to develop the corona vaccine for which the world has been desperately waiting.

Back home, Dr Priya Abraham, the Director of the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, and her team had been actively researching into the corona diagnosis and vaccine-related measures. Under her leadership and guidance, India developed a PCR detection kit, the first antibody detection kit for Covid-19, to reduce the time taken by the general practises.

While the coronavirus pandemic plagued the world, India also suffered through the migrant crisis. In the aftermath of the Covid-19-induced lockdown forced across the nation, migrant workers and daily wage labourers were left to fend for themselves. In the face of the country’s biggest humanitarian crisis, journalist Barkha Dutt deemed it was only right to step out to understand the “magnitude of what was unfolding.”

From jumping into trucks crammed with labourers desperate to get back to their villages or hopping into a train to Bangalore to talk to migrant workers returning to Uttar Pradesh, the Emmy-nominated newscaster traversed 14,000 kilometres through eight states over 74 days to highlight the ground reality of the unfortunate event. Now, as the farmers’ protest progresses in the capital state, Dutt can be found there too.

Even a pandemic and one of the most wretched years in recent memory couldn’t stop these women from achieving their goals and setting an example for others to follow.