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    10 key issues in ensuring gender equity in the global health workforce

    20 March 2019

    Gender inequity remains a challenge in the health workforce, with too few women making critical decisions and leading the work. WHO, the Global Health Workforce Network, and Women in Global Health today launched a report at the Commission on the Status of Women to describe the social and economic factors that determine why few women lead in global health, and make a call for action to urgently address gender inequity. These are the 10 key points to emerge from the report. 

    1. Women make up 70% of the health workforce but only 25% hold senior roles.

    Strong health system will be much more resilient when an outbreak occurs

    This means that in reality, women deliver global health and men lead it. These gaps in gender leadership are driven by stereotypes, discrimination, and power imbalances. Some women are further disadvantaged on the basis of their race or class. 

    2. Gender inequity in the health workforce is indicative of a wider problem in global health.

    Health workers in Africa huddled around a laptop, as part of their work around Ebola

    Global health is predominantly led by men: 69% of global health organizations are headed by men, and 80% of board chairs are men. Only 20% of global health  organizations were found to have gender parity on their boards, and only 25% had gender parity at senior management level.

    3. Often, gender norms and stereotypes of jobs can affect the roles that women occupy.

    A nurse checks the medicine in a small pharmacy at a rural commune health center in Doi Son, Ha Nam Province, Vietnam.

    Cultural labelling as either ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s’ roles prevent women from reaching leadership levels. 

    4. This stereotyping is a significant contributor to the gender pay gap.

    A ship of Ukrainian crew is one of the many ships the Nigeria health service workers embark daily to conduct Ebola screening.

    The gender pay gap is 25% - higher than average for other sectors. Female health workers are clustered into lower-status and lower-paid (often unpaid) roles. 

    5. Women often face bias and discrimination, as well as sexual harassment.

    Venancia Ferreira is a community leader in Fortaleza, she is discussing how communities can reduce dengue transmission.

    This can affect their careers and lead to extreme stress and a loss of morale. Many countries lack laws and social protection that are the foundation for gender equality at work – moreover, male health workers are more likely to be organized in trade unions that defend their rights than female health workers.

    6. Gender inequity is threatening the delivery of health.

    A fourteen year old boy with obesity issues consults with a doctor on healthy eating choices at the Nutrition Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

    An estimated 40 million new jobs will be needed by 2030 in the global health and social sector. Yet there is an estimated shortfall of 18 million health workers, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

    7. Leaving the gender balance to equalize on its own is not an option.

    Doctors of the 1st Consultant Hospital. 4 out of 7 of the Ebola victims in Nigeria were from 1st Consultant's Hospital, where the index cases arrived.

    Unless specific, targeted measures are taken, workplace gender equality is estimated to take 202 years.

    8. Addressing gender inequities in the health and social workforce as one of the biggest employment sectors of women could have enormous impact towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Nurses ensure hygiene standards are met at Makeni regional hospital in Sierra Leone

    There is a health dividend in filling the millions of new jobs that must be created to meet growing demand and reach universal health coverage and the health-related SDGs by 2030. There is a gender equality dividend, since investing in women and the education of girls to enter formal, paid work will increase gender equality and women’s empowerment as women gain income, education and autonomy. In turn, this is likely to improve family education, nutrition, women’s and children’s health, and other aspects of development. Finally, there is a development dividend as new jobs are created, fuelling economic growth.

    9. Countries need to adopt policies that address the underlying causes of gender inequities.

    A nurse is helping another nurse to put on a sterile uniform before a surgery, hopistal no. 9, Moscow, Russia

    This is what is called gender-transformative change. For example, adding jobs to the health workforce under current conditions will not solve the gender inequities that exacerbate the health worker shortage. Policies to date have attempted to fix women to fit into inequitable systems; now we need to fix the system and work environment to create decent work for women and close gender gaps in leadership and pay.

    10. The focus of research in the global health and social workforce should be shifted.

    Health care workers discuss information and training materials at the Hospital Geral de Luanda, one of the three reference centres for yellow fever patients in Luanda province, Angola.

    Research must prioritize low- and middle-income countries; apply a gender and intersectionality lens; include sex- and gender-disaggregated data; and include the social care workforce. Research must go beyond describing the gender inequities to also evaluate the impact of gender-transformative interventions.

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