NEW YORK – Activists for women’s empowerment, global health experts and child advocates gathered earlier this month to discuss the impact of gender discrimination and inequalities on female health providers who make up more than two-thirds of the world’s global health workforce, as physicians, nurses, midwives, community health workers and unpaid caregivers.
Jhpiego President and CEO Leslie Mancuso, Dr. Anju Malhotra, Principal Advisor, Gender & Development, UNICEF, and Dr. Afaf Meleis, Dean Emerita & Professor of Nursing and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, were among the top leaders participating in the March 16 panel discussion that was co-sponsored by Jhpiego and Unicef. The presenters discussed the intersection of gender inequalities, provision of health care services and women’s economic empowerment.
Researchers and practitioners shared their views on why investing in female health workers through a gender equitable approach can promote economic empowerment and gender equality. Other panel members included Elizabeth Gessesse, of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health; Dr. Veronica Magar, WHO; Yodit Kidanemariam, Education and Training Advisor, Jhpiego Ethiopia; and Varwo Sirtor-Gbassie, Gender and Social Work Advisor, Jhpiego Liberia.
Recent reports by the World Health Organization and a special Lancet Commission, “Women and Health: the key for sustainable development,” argue that the role of women as caregivers drive and is fueled by a vicious cycle of gender inequality wherein women are disproportionately burdened with providing healthcare, oftentimes unpaid or underpaid. The world will be short 18 million health workers needed to deliver essential health services by 2030, and investing in health workforce can result in a 9:1 return on investment.
Facts you should know:
- Female health workers are still paid substantially less than their male counterparts, even if they have the same qualifications and responsibilities.
- Traditional norms around women’s independence, roles, mobility or working outside of the home can also make it hard for women to pursue higher education in health.
- During their education and training, female students aren’t called on as much, face greater difficulties paying tuition than male students, experience sexual harassment by teachers and other students, and often don’t have quiet places or time to study.
- A lack of support and leadership skill training for women has led to female health workers and students dropping out of school, poor performance and job attrition.
“Make no mistake, female health workers are absolutely indispensable to the delivery of healthcare services,” Dr. Mancuso said in prepared remarks.
Female health students and workers need support and assistance to stay in school, perform at their fullest potential, graduate, and go on to deliver high quality care in the places in the world where they are most needed. Jhpiego is investing in the future of female health workers through a variety of initiatives. They include development and enforcement of sexual harassment policies, gender clubs, extra mentorship sessions, tuition grants, and gender-sensitization programs for faculty and male students.
“Employment in the healthcare industry also plays a very important role in women’s personal economic success in almost every country, providing women a path to financial independence, credit, savings and opportunities that allow them to support themselves and their families,” Dr. Mancuso said.
Photos provided by Myra Betron, Joya Banerjee and Jennifer Breads.