Generation equality: upholding gender rights in the health care sector

I was recently moved to hear about a Filipina nurse who was able to evacuate 35 newborn babies to safety when a fire hit parts of the Philippine General Hospital in Manila last week. Over the past year, and even before, we have seen similar stories of heroism from our health care workers – doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, pharmacists, janitors and other medical frontliners who have gone beyond the call of duty and exposed themselves and their families to risk, who spend sleepless nights to ensure that proper care is given to those needing it most and who serve as sources of comfort to those fighting the virus in isolation.

These inspiring acts remind us of the immeasurable value of workers in the health sector, particularly the women who make up an estimated 70 percent of the 135 million health workers all over the world. I also think of the thousands of Filipino health care workers working abroad, many of whom have made invaluable contributions to the fight against the pandemic in several countries.

This is a timely reminder because 2021 has been designated as the “International Year of Health and Care Workers” by the World Health Assembly to honor the dedication, talent and sacrifices of medical personnel who have been at the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. It also serves as an occasion for governments and all concerned actors to ensure that our health care workers are adequately supported and protected, especially during this pandemic which had exposed the frailties and vulnerabilities of our health care systems.

COVID-19 has also brought to light and exacerbated existing gender-related issues, including gender inequalities within the health sector. According to a 2019 study published by the Gender Equity Hub (GEH), decision-making in health is dominated by men while health care is delivered mostly by women. Gender biases and discrimination, sexual harassment and violence, as well as inequity in terms of pay and career opportunities due to gender remain prevalent in the workplace. Many countries have yet to adopt legislation to address these concerns and ensure that gender rights are upheld at work.

This needs to change.

France, which places gender equality as a priority, including through its feminist foreign policy, supports the idea that the full and effective participation of women in all levels and sectors, through the elimination of these gender barriers, is instrumental to our post-pandemic recovery. More specifically, our country believes that the place and role of women in the health and care sector is a top priority in the context of this health crisis.

It is for this reason that the French government is working alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) and Women in Global Health (WGH) for the Gender Equal Health and Care Workforce Initiative (GEHCWI). This Initiative aims to mobilize governments, international organizations, civil society representatives and the private sector to empower women in the health care sector by making concrete commitments around four major themes: women’s leadership, remuneration and informal work, sexual harassment and violence, and working conditions.

The GEHCWI is one of the complementary actions in support of the “Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality” that will be unveiled at the culmination of the Generation Equality Forum, which will take place in Paris from June 30 to July 2, 2021.

The Generation Equality Forum, which kicked off in Mexico City last March, is a global, civil society-centered event for gender equality, co-organized by the governments of France and Mexico and convened by UN Women. A group of 90 champions, including governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, have come together in the past year to draft this Global Acceleration Plan and to identify concrete goals and actions towards achieving true gender equality by 2026.

Tens of thousands of participants are expected to attend this global event in an online format. I invite our partners in the Philippines to be a part of the Generation Equality Forum by registering online and lending your voice and ideas in favor of concrete actions to give girls equal access to education, to allow women to decide autonomously on their bodies, to stop violence against women and girls, to allow women to have equal opportunities with men in the economy, society and in decision-making and to support feminist movements and women human rights defenders.

I also invite them to support the initiative on women in our health and care sector. In these particularly challenging times for both the health sector and for our society as a whole, I am convinced that the action needed to achieve true gender equality throughout the world goes hand in hand with the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. While the ongoing health crisis may come across as a possible disruption in our efforts to achieve gender equality, it may actually become an opportunity to better acknowledge the importance of the work of our economic and health frontliners and, indeed, to better thank them for what they do.

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Michèle Boccoz is the Ambassador of France to the Philippines and to Micronesia. The online registration to participate in the Generation Equality Forum is open until June 27, 2021 through the following link: https://forumgenerationegalite.fr/en/get-involved/register

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