The story of women through the COVID-19 pandemic will be told by historians as one of peril, resilience and great strength.
Women of all walks of life are being pushed to the limits by the demands of the pandemic, whether it is office workers who lead teams while bouncing a toddler on one knee or the nurses and other health care workers who have served at the pandemic’s front lines.
Women all over the world are more likely to have lost their jobs, increased their time spent on unpaid household work and childcare, and are more likely to be experiencing violence at home than they were pre-pandemic. Women have lost jobs at nearly twice the rate of men during the pandemic. Women spend three times more than men on unpaid care and domestic work each day. And violence against women has increased significantly with stay-at-home orders, office closures and other mandates — in some countries up to 70% compared before the pandemic.
Despite these challenges, women are also the shining examples of vital and effective leadership in the pandemic response. Countries with women who are head of state such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Germany and Slovakia have been internationally recognized for the effectiveness of their response to the pandemic. These women leaders were proactive in responding to the threat of the virus, implementing social distancing restrictions early, seeking expert advice to inform health strategies and unifying the country around a comprehensive response with transparent and compassionate communication.
The example of pandemic response adds to a body of knowledge that supports having women at the top, leading the leaders, is good for everyone. A Harvard Business School study has shown women leaders have a measurable impact on the bottom line, with venture capital firms that hired more female partners showing increased profitability. The presence of women leaders in national, local and community level governance leads to an increase in policy making that advances rights, promotes equality and improves quality of life for those overlooked in society.
Despite this evidence, “women deliver global health and men lead it” according to a recent World Health Organization report. Women make up 70% of the global health workforce, yet women from middle- and low-income countries make up only 5% of leaders at global health organizations. In the largest 100 U.S. hospitals, only 33% of executive positions are held by women, and only 25% of African ministers of health are women. In a recent study, the humanitarian nongovernmental organization CARE found that only 24% of the positions on national level committees established to respond to COVID-19 are held by women. As the WHO concludes, “women, as the majority of the global health and social care workforce, are the drivers of global health.” It is time to change the narrative. It is time we move beyond women’s nominal representation and actively seek women’s advancement into positions at the head of the table. And COVID-19 response is the place where this should happen.
Today’s public health leaders and decision-makers will determine the how, when and where of vaccine distribution, the effects of which will be felt for generations. Women have demonstrated their ability to lead these efforts with the focus on compassion, equity and fairness that it deserves. Having women at the head of the table in these conversations will ensure that the differentiated and often disproportionate social and economic impact of the pandemic on women is considered.
Having a woman at the head of the table will ensure that the compounded effects of the pandemic on gender-based violence, reproductive health services, child care, etc. are addressed alongside the direct COVID-19 response, recognizing their importance to women’s resilience and ability to recover from this crisis.
In a world where gender continues to be a dominant determinant of health, it is important for the people in charge to share the perspectives of those they serve. On this year’s International Women’s Day, we should recognize the incredible female leadership around the world that is working hard to get us through this crisis. We should use this crisis to advance more women into senior leadership roles in global health. And we should stop talking about the need for women to be represented in leadership fora and ask ourselves which woman should be leading the way.
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Why Countries With Female Leaders Have Responded Well to the Pandemic originally appeared on usnews.com