On International Women’s Day, Integrate Health reflects on the progress that has been made on gender equality throughout the world. It is also a moment to highlight what still needs to be done and recognize those who have helped to inch the bar to benefit everyone. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, women need to be recognized as crucial health and social care providers. Integrate Health (IH) has embraced this idea as we continue to put an emphasis on women when hiring staff, especially Community Health Workers (CHWs).
On this day, we want to recognize the crucial role of women in the healthcare system. According to the World Health Organization, women make up 70% of global health jobs but only 25% of leadership roles, yet they are on the frontlines, saving lives and advocating for policy reforms for the wellbeing of people around the world.
For centuries, women have been informal caretakers across the globe, and their hard work has not always been recognized. Even as formal healthcare workers, oftentimes on the frontlines, their work remains undervalued. Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world witnessed how women stepped up to battle the pandemic as caregivers, healthcare workers, scientists, doctors, and country leaders. Remarkably, women continue to be paid 11% less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, it is estimated that women in health contribute 5% to global GDP, and almost 50% of that goes under-paid or unpaid. Integrate Health is committed to helping right those wrongs by recognizing the contribution of women in healthcare.
IH’s mission is to make quality primary healthcare accessible to all, and one of the strategies we use to achieve this goal is by hiring women as CHWs. As of today, 95% of the 139 Integrate Health-supported CHWs are women. When IH first started recruiting women from rural communities to become CHWs, some local authorities doubted that we would find women who would want to become CHWs. But as we started the recruitment process, many qualified and courageous women came forward to help save lives in their communities.
After just three weeks of training, these women, most of whom only have their primary school diploma, started providing lifesaving care to their neighbors. We know that when women are given the opportunity, they thrive and bring their families and the whole community with them. As many CHWs have attested, getting a role as a CHW is a big deal for them personally and for their families.
As CHWs become successful in their communities, they begin to change gender dynamics, which can become a challenging situation in their personal lives. CHWs have reported being questioned by their husbands or families who do not understand or disagree with the fact that the women can serve as fulltime healthcare providers. To confront gender norms and facilitate conversation, IH meets with communities to discuss this topic. Recently, IH held a training in which the spouses of CHWs were trained on the essential work of their partners and women’s right to work. Though the work is ongoing, IH is led by the women, who confront harmful gender norms every day to save lives.
CHWs are crucial to IH’s Integrated Primary Care Program, and they deserve a safe environment to work and live. On International Women’s Day, IH is thrilled to honor the courageous work of IH-supported CHWs and of women around the world who continue to pave the path forward as they pursue a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
International Women’s Day is first a celebration of women as human beings and the progress they have made over the years. It is also a moment to take stock of gender inequities that remain and to reaffirm our dedication to eliminating them.