Gender Inequality Drives “Great Resignation” Among Women Health Workers Worldwide

by Ella

A global phenomenon dubbed the “Great Resignation” is impacting women health workers across the world, driven by persistent gender inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, reveals a new report.


Women, constituting 70 percent of the global health workforce, are leaving the sector in significant numbers due to burdensome workloads, unfair compensation, unequal opportunities, and a lack of dignity and protection compared to their male counterparts.


This mass exodus, responsible for the resignation of 20 percent of healthcare workers from high-income nations in the last two years, has now escalated into a “health emergency” of global proportions, warns Ann Keeling, the author of the Women in Global Health report.


Experts predict that an additional four million nurses, over 80 percent of whom are women, will depart from the international health sector by 2030, placing added pressure on healthcare systems worldwide.


“The women who carry health systems on their shoulders are saying ‘enough’. They have formed the frontline of patient care but have been undervalued, put at risk, and not listened to,” says Ms. Keeling. “We truly have a moral emergency on our hands, as so many of them are leaving the sector.”

This crisis unfolds in the context of a severe global shortage of 15 million health workers that existed before the pandemic. Covid-19 has exacerbated this shortfall, placing millions of women in precarious frontline positions with minimal physical or mental protection.

For decades, women have been concentrated in patient-facing roles considered “lower status” and offering significantly lower pay than male-dominated specialties. Despite their majority representation in the workforce, women hold only 25 percent of senior leadership positions.

The pandemic further exposed this hierarchy, with 85 percent of Covid-19 task forces being dominated by men, leaving women to populate the frontlines, according to the report.

Especially in low-income countries, women have often been the primary health workers patients interact with, placing them at a disproportionately high risk of Covid-19 infection.

The pandemic has hit women harder, with their position within the health hierarchy being a significant factor. Women have led the Covid-19 health response but have often been last in line for personal protective equipment (PPE) and granted little safety or dignity.

In many cases, women health workers have been compelled to work long hours in ill-fitting protective gear designed for their male colleagues, leading to undignified conditions.

Additionally, women health workers are burdened with a higher share of unpaid work, both professionally and domestically, as per the report. This forces them to manage crisis-level patient workloads while being primary caregivers for their families.

Despite an increased workload, women health workers earn 24 percent less on average than their male counterparts. Over six million women worldwide, primarily community health workers, are either unpaid or grossly underpaid.

Chloe Jones, who left her nurse training within two years due to the overwhelming burden placed on women health workers, emphasizes the lack of understanding for their experiences. “We’re just expected to soldier on, no matter the circumstances,” says Ms. Jones.

This systemic inequality has led to high levels of PTSD, burnout, physical illness, and poor mental health among millions of women health workers. As a result, women worldwide are reconsidering their roles in the health sector, triggering a mass exodus.

Addressing the root causes of this gender inequity is crucial to combat the “Great Resignation.” Decision-makers must take a deliberate approach to tackle gender inequalities, recognizing that valuing women’s protection, closing the gender pay gap, and granting them an equal say in decision-making are essential.

Experts argue that the “Great Resignation” should be a top priority on the global health agenda due to the adverse cycle it perpetuates for those remaining in the health sector. Urgency is needed to address unrealistic workloads, unfair pay, and unequal opportunity for women in health, as the future of health security hangs in the balance.

“We are in the middle of a global health emergency because we live in an interconnected world, and the Great Resignation underpins everything,” says Ms. Keeling. “What we’re asking for here is nothing less than a new social contract for women in health.”


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