Fiji’s Minister of Health and Medical Services, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete is convinced that “the best way to protect women in health is to protect all women in society.”

This belief was echoed by all panellists at the 76th UN General Assembly’s side event: Women, health and gender equality: Commit, accelerate, scale up!. Co-hosted by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Women in Global Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, the virtual event brought together ministers, civil society members and activists under the umbrella of gender equality and health equity.

Experts suggest that the pandemic has led to major setbacks in gender equality and health equity, with decreased access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and marginalised groups dying from COVID-19 in higher numbers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare existing inequalities across the world, with low- and middle-income countries slow to receive the vaccines they desperately need, and women and girls disproportionately affected by gender-based violence.

But however grim the situation might be, this global crisis has also provided important lessons for the global health community. “There is no better time than now to act decisively,” says Anuradha Gupta, Gavi’s Deputy CEO, summing up the key takeaways from the event. Two key lessons stand out:

1. Healthcare systems rely on the expertise of women

“Without women, mass vaccination campaigns would be impossible,” says Dr Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director of Women in Global Health, referring to the immense task of not only administering millions of vaccines per day, but also educating the community about the importance of being immunised.

This task is carried out predominantly by nurses, of whom more than 80% are women. Dr Dhatt called for the international community to take action to pay and protect healthcare workers, provide safe and decent working conditions and ensure women a seat at the decision-making table. Ultimately, these actions will strengthen local, national and global health systems, saving millions of lives.

The 4 pillars of the Gender Equal Health and Care Workforce Initiative
The 4 pillars of the Gender Equal Health and Care Workforce Initiative

2. Global health institutions rely on data to ensure accountability

With over a thousand commitments made towards advancing gender equality at the Generation Equality Forum in June 2021, momentum is high and concrete promises have been made. Fiji’s ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190, that promises protection from discrimination to all of its workers, and Argentina’s gender-transformative COVID-19 policies to reduce gender-based violence during lockdowns are just a few examples.

However the next, and arguably more difficult, step is holding stakeholders accountable for these promises through data collection and disaggregation. The next couple of years are key to assessing the impact of these policies on the health and lives of women worldwide.

Experts suggest that the pandemic has led to major setbacks in gender equality and health equity, with decreased access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and marginalised groups dying from COVID-19 in higher numbers.

However, key stakeholders are starting to recognise that “there is no equality without gender equality and no global health without women’s health.” WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus left participants with this message, inspiring hope that concrete actions will be taken.

TOPICS: UNGAGenderCOVID-19

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