The COVID-19 pandemic is an international public health crisis that is still threatening the entire world. Gender inequalities continue to be a critical challenge for society, including the healthcare area. In this pandemic, millions of women have been the ones who have been on the front line to face COVID-19. Women make up the majority of the health workforce; however, few hold leadership positions.
Investments are missing in healthcare in order to improve women’s access to health. Also, women are consistently paid less than their counterparts. Many women work disproportionately in unpaid or low-paid informal roles, and in many cases, they are obliged to work without adequate social protection. Each year, women generate worldwide approximately $3 trillion in health work; however, half of this work is neither recognized nor paid. In addition, women bear a double burden between work and taking care of their families and the housework.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities and other socio-economic disparities. Men and women appear to be infected with COVID-19 in roughly similar amounts (48% of the infected individuals are women); however, as the majority of the health workers are women, it is they who are at the greatest risk of infection. Thousands of women, despite the fear they felt of being infected, or even of dying, did not hesitate to be brave and face COVID-19. Undoubtedly, there are thousands of warriors who starred in inspiring stories coping with the pandemic.
The implementation of public policies is necessary to support women working on the front lines. Likewise, the recognition of the value of women’s unpaid work and the redistribution of family care between both sexes is essential. In this sense, it is necessary to promote actions aimed at fair and equitable economic compensation. Without a doubt, there is an urgent need to improve wages and working conditions so that frontline workers can work in safe and dignified environments.
On the other hand, it is also important to take into account the urgency of having a holistic agenda truly committed to women’s health. For example, women’s autonomy over their sexuality and fertility is fundamental to the women’s health agenda. In addition, it is necessary to take into account diseases such as reproductive cancers, mental illnesses, and other non-communicable diseases, as well as the appearance of new outbreaks such as the pandemic we are experiencing, since these health illnesses disproportionately, affect women.
To achieve universal health coverage, explicit attention must be paid to addressing inequalities, including public policies that counteract unequal gender norms, prevent violence against women and guarantee women’s access to social protection and financial protection.
More women than ever are qualifying doctors, yet around the world, they’re consistently paid less than their male peers. Global health systems rely heavily on the unpaid and low-paid work of women, and most depend on the poorest women on the planet, who face the worst working conditions. For instance, female primary care physicians generate less visit revenue than male colleagues in the same practices owing to a lower volume of visits, yet spent more time in direct patient care per visit, per day, and per year. Several of the solutions proposed to close the pay gap in Medicine could work in some Western nations. Dr. Lisa Rotenstein and Dr. Jessica Dudley wrote for the Harvard Business Review some suggestions such as improving the collection and transparency of salary data so that everyone can see who is being paid what. They also argue that coaching and sponsorship of female physicians should go beyond the same-gender mentorship and peer groups that have long been the norm.
In short, it is required that health workers can work in spaces that provide stronger health systems, with greater equality and with equitable economic benefits for all. Likewise, post-COVID-19 health, development, and recovery must prioritize women’s health since although we are half the population, our needs are often ignored.
In conclusion, COVID-19 has highlighted the latent inequalities between men and women. Today, it is clear that investing in women’s health is not only a moral imperative but an astute investment. As UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, progress in women’s health has been uneven, but by working together we can create a better and healthier world for women and for all. To promote these changes, gender transformative actions are required to dismantle the social gender roles that perpetuate harmful perceptions that do not contribute to the struggle to improve the conditions of women health workers, whose resilience has been admirable. Clearly, a future must be reinvented in which women’s health and rights are non-negotiable. Transforming gender policies and global health security has to last beyond the current pandemic, only then can we build a world based on gender equality.