Women Are Key to Global Health Advancement

March 22, 2021

By Anderson Alleyne, Communications Consultant, Global Health Council

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the integral role health workers play in our health system. Being at the forefront of the global COVID-19 response, frontline health workers are caring for COVID-19 patients while also delivering essential health services. Women play an important part in the health system as they make up a majority of frontline health care workers globally. According to the World Health Organization, women currently account for 70% of the global health workforce and provide essential health services to around 5 billion people worldwide. It is also estimated that women contribute US$3 trillion in healthcare annually.

Though the health sector is a major employer of women globally, only about 25% of leadership roles are held by women. There is an average gender pay gap of 28% in the health workforce as women tend to work in lower status, low paid, and even unpaid roles. The World Economic Forum estimates that women’s unpaid contributions equate to 2.35% of global GDP and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this unequal gender division of labor. 

As a result of working on the frontlines, women also face a disproportionate risk of contracting infectious diseases. At least 17,000 health workers have died from COVID-19 over the last year, many of them women. Not to mention women health workers are subject to discrimination and harassment in the workplace which is widespread and often ignored.

Global health is weakened by the loss of female talent and knowledge. Given that there is a predicted shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030, we must rectify these shortcomings in order to achieve universal health coverage. Global Health Council’s 2021 Global Health Briefing Book outlines recommendations to correct these disparities, such as eliminating pay inequities and supporting a woman’s distinct needs. Investing in the global health workforce yields a 9:1 return on investment, and has the potential to create 40 million new health workforce jobs worldwide by 2030 and spark economic empowerment for the women who drive global health. Gender equity is vital to building resilient health systems and the pandemic offers a chance to implement much-needed change.