Applause is great, but nurses and midwives also need safe and decent work and fair pay

This World Health Day, we’re taking a moment to recognize the contributions of nurses and midwives - more than 90% of whom are women.

Today also marks the release of the State of the World’s Nursing report, which shows:

  • Nursing remains a highly gendered profession with associated biases in the workplace. Approximately 90% of the nursing workforce is female, but few leadership positions in health are held by nurses or women.

  • There is some evidence of a gender-based pay gap, as well as other forms of gender-based discrimination in the work environment. Legal protections, including working hours and conditions, minimum wage, and social protection, were reported to be in place in most countries, but not equitably across regions.

  • Just over a third of countries (37%) reported measures in place to prevent attacks on health workers.

Here at WGH, we’re particularly delighted by Recommendation #8 in the report: “Countries should deliberately plan for gender-sensitive nursing workforce policies.” This includes:

  • Implementing an equitable and gender-neutral system of remuneration among health workers, and ensuring that policies and laws addressing the gender pay gap apply to the private sector as well.

  • Gender considerations should inform nursing policies across the education, practice, regulatory and leadership functions, taking account of the fact that the nursing workforce is still predominantly female.

  • Creating enabling work environments for women, for example through flexible and manageable working hours that accommodate needs of women, and gender-transformative leadership development opportunities for women in the nursing workforce.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for investments in 5 key areas:

  1. Accelerate investments in nursing and midwifery education.

  2. Employ more specialist nurses.

  3. Invest in the leadership skills of nurses and midwives.

  4. Make midwives and nurses the heart of primary health care.

  5. Support nurses and midwives in delivering health promotion and disease prevention.

We are specifically asking that all health workforce investments aim to be gender transformative by aiming to root out and address causes for gender inequities.

We know when we invest in the health workforce, especially nurses and midwives, we see a triple gender dividend: improvements in health, economic growth and a gender equality dividend when women in nursing and midwifery have decent work and conditions.

We also know there’s a multiplier effect when approaches to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are gender-responsive:

SDG #1 (eradicating poverty),

SDG #3 (achieving good health and wellbeing for all),

SDG #4 (ensuring inclusive and equitable education),

SDG #5 (achieving gender equality),

SDG #8 (promoting decent work and inclusive and sustainable economic growth), and more.

Moreover, we recognize that as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife (YONM), 2020 represents one of the most demanding examples of nurses and midwives carrying the world’s health on their shoulders. As such, we owe these front line workers our full support; we cannot afford to fight the current pandemic - and those yet to come - with one hand tied behind our back.

Women in Global Health supports the the recommendations in the State of the World’s Nursing report, in addition to our Year of the Nurse and Midwife Five-Point Action Plan, to better support those who are the beating heart of global health systems:

Want to get involved in WGH’s YONM activities, especially those related to COVID-19 responses? Here’s how:

  • Nominate a nurse or midwife fighting on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic - the deadline has been extended to April 13 for COVID-related nominations

  • Follow #YONM and #SupportNursesAndMidwives, on social media, calling out the elements of our Action Plan. Here’s a suggested tweet: In honor of World Health Day and release of #YONM report, we join @WomeninGH in calling on @WHO, national governments and international agencies to provide nurses and midwives with necessary personal protective gear, safe and decent working conditions, and fair pay.

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