Across the world, women are instrumental in providing healthcare, making up 70% of the global health workforce. Despite this, they face inequality every day, earning significantly less than their male counterparts, experiencing gender inequity, and holding only a quarter of senior roles across the sector.
The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the lack of gender parity within healthcare. There have been severe shortages of personal protective equipment that fits women, exposing them to greater risk of infection. Women’s voices have also been largely absent from the design and delivery of COVID-19 responses — despite their central role in treating the virus.
How the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls hits especially hard
Gender inequality is one of the biggest barriers to ending extreme poverty and hunger — and it’s also the prime reason that COVID-19 is affecting women and girls in developing countries more than anybody else. Here’s why.
COVID-19 has also brought to light the harsh reality of health inequities around the world. Its impact has been toughest on communities that were already vulnerable and less likely to have access to quality health care services – communities that we’ve worked with for over 50 years.
At Concern, we see firsthand the important role women on the frontlines of healthcare play in the world’s poorest countries, and the transformational impact they’re having on their communities. We’d like to introduce you to some of them.
Nelly and Emielliene, Central African Republic
Health worker Nelly and Immunization Coordinator Emielliene work at Bekadili Health Facility, a Concern-supported health center in the Central African Republic. On average, they both deliver around 15 babies every month.
For health professionals like Nelly and Emielliene, working in the context of CAR’s protracted crisis can be extremely challenging. Health services in the region are unreliable: They are often temporarily closed, frequently run out of essential medicines, and do not have nearly enough qualified staff, equipment, or monitoring tools. Sadly, the Central African Republic has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, highlighting the severity of the situation.
Rebekka, South Sudan
Chagawa* has eight children and is nine months pregnant with her ninth. She comes to Concern’s mobile health clinic every time it’s here; today she is having labour pains as she is close to her due date. It can take Chagawa up to three hours to walk from her home to the nearest health facility, which is why mobile clinics like these are so important.
Globally, 24 million of the 28.5 million nurses and midwives are women like Rebekka. But across South Sudan, there is a severe shortage of midwives, particularly in rural areas. Daily, Rebekka meets with around ten pregnant women, alongside a traditional birth attendant who assists the women between visits from the mobile health clinic, to provide prenatal care and advice.
Photo essay: The faces of maternal and child health in South Sudan
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Moussa Zouéra, Niger
Moussa Zouéra is Chief Nursing Officer of the Integrated Health Center of Koufantawa, Niger. She tells us: “Every morning, I check the departments within the Center; the maternity section, family planning, the sorting room, infectious disease care and infusion.”
Despite the fact that seven out of ten workers across the health sector are women, they hold only 25% of senior roles. In a sector and society that has historically placed more value on male leadership, women like Moussa are trailblazers whose voices have the incredible potential to improve the delivery of health services around the world, particularly for women.
Chawada is a Community Health Volunteer in Niger who’s been trained by Concern to support improved health and nutrition in her village. As well as providing education to mothers, she helps to identify malnourished children and refer them for treatment at the nearest health center, where they receive a course of therapeutic food.
In many of the countries Concern operates in, communities depend on Health Volunteers like Chawada — the majority of which are women — to deliver essential medical care and health education. Despite the critical role they play, many of these women are not paid for their services.
Abarchi Madamia, Niger
Abarchi Madamia, President of the MISOLA Enriched Flour production unit in Niger. Mrs. Madamia manages a group of 15 women who produce fortified wheat flour, which is used as part of Concern’s Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program to treat acute malnutrition in young children. The flour contains essential vitamins and minerals and is portioned into supplements that children take for five days. In Niger, 1.3 million children under five currently have acute malnutrition. Producing enriched flour is an inexpensive but effective strategy for supplying essential vitamins and minerals to these children.
Lwanzo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Lwanzo, a health worker from Lukanga, Democratic Republic of Congo, prepares for a community demonstration on equipment to wear when treating an infectious disease patient.
Health workers like Lwanzo across the country have dealt with infectious diseases long before COVID-19. The first case of Ebola was recorded in the country in 1976. As recently as February, the twelfth outbreak of Ebola was declared in North Kivu province, in the country’s northeast.
Alaa Idrees, Lebanon
Alaa Idrees is a Protection Training Officer in Lebanon. She works with women and children who are survivors of gender-based violence, providing guidance, resources, protection and psychosocial support at the most critical time. Alaa told us, “My main purpose is to help the survivors improve their quality of life.”
It’s estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, which is associated with long-term mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During displacement and times of crisis, the threat of gender-based violence significantly increases for women and girls.
Rebekah, a Concern Community Health Worker, visits Nyariemi and her 8-month-old son, Parnath, at their home in the Pugnido refugee camp, Gambella, Ethiopia.
Across the Gambella region, there are over 300,000 refugees like Nyariemi and Parnath, the majority of whom are women and children who have fled conflict in their home countries. Although there is some form of healthcare in camps like Pugnido refugee camp, women health professionals like Rebekah are often lacking in these contexts, which can have significant impacts on female refugees’ well-being.
Women of Concern in the global health workforce
In a year that’s been like no other, we’ve seen the critical role that women in the health workforce play in the world’s poorest countries, enabling vulnerable communities to access health services and equipping them with vital knowledge and awareness.
Although the world is a long way from achieving gender equality within the health sector, at Concern we’ll continue to prioritize and amplify the voices of women like Alaa, Rebekka, Moussa and Nelly – who are giving us hope that a healthier, fairer world is on the horizon.