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Why we need women’s leadership in the COVID-19 response

  • Women comprise the majority of frontline healthcare workers globally, meaning that female representation is vital in tackling the coronavirus crisis.
  • 70% of the world's healthcare staff are made up of women, but only 25% of global leaders are female.
  • Without women in these positions, women's issues could fail to be addressed throughout the crisis.

Solving health emergencies like COVID-19 demands the best minds the world has to offer – in health systems strengthening, therapeutic R&D and more. We know diverse teams lead to more innovation, and neglecting half the talent pool limits our ability to make life-saving choices.

Women comprise the bulk of the world’s frontline health workers, shouldering the burden of strenuous work, while increasing their own risk of infection. With the novel coronavirus, women have played a central role: take China, where 90 percent of the nurses and nearly half the doctors are female. Although women make up 70% of the health workforce, they only comprise 25% of senior leadership positions.

Although the US Coronavirus Taskforce is majority men – and leaders of COVID-19 teams around the world, including the UK, are solely men – there are a number of talented women playing critical roles. The US taskforce does have two women, including one at the helm. In addition, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, and Sun Chunlan, the most senior official leading on-the-ground efforts in Hubei province, are doing incredible work. This is an important start.

As the virus continues to spread, governments, research labs and health facilities should commit to ensuring that women in leadership is not the exception, but the norm. Collecting sex-disaggregated data must also be prioritized so we can better understand the unique impact women as compared to men. More broadly, we must build the systems to support women’s leadership in global health before the next disaster strikes. We can do this by equipping women with the skills, training and opportunities to rise to the top, and advocating for systemic changes – like closing the pay gap – to change the face of global health leadership.

As new COVID-19 cases emerge daily, we have no time to lose. Prioritizing women’s voices in the response will set us up for a more equitable, healthier future while saving lives today.

Click here to read the full article by  for World Economic Forum.

Image source: REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

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