Women are bearing the healthcare services burden,but get buried by the patriarchy.
An article by Nichapat Sanunsilp and Pongpisit Huyakorn
Public health workers and volunteers are indispensable in the fight against COVID-19, both in terms of healthcare and potential socio-economic support. One thing we often overlook, however, is the fact that more than 80% of the health volunteers and local health officers that make up the frontlines of our public health system are female. A special acknowledgement must be dedicated to this tireless and selfless group of women.
Most of us can acknowledge an existing stereotype that leads us to expect most nurses and other healthcare service jobs to be carried out by women. Similar to how women are expected to tend to most of the housework and family affairs in our society.
Conventional gender roles tend to project the stereotype that women have a more compassionate or gentle personality than men, making them a better fit for the nursing profession, and discouraging men from pursuing the same career path. According to Liu et al., (2019) “Male nurses face gender role strain in the current nursing environment because there is a myth that female nurses are more caring, as it is a feminine trait, whereas male nurses’ masculinity is not considered to be related to caring.”
Moreover, having feminine traits in men is not always welcome in a conservative society. Harding (2007) stated that male nurses are often assumed to be, and are stigmatised, for being gay. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a gay nurse, just as much as there is nothing wrong with being a straight male nurse. However, even some women within the nursing profession perpetuate these gender biases, sometimes as a detriment to their own work. According to Ushiro & Nakayama (2010), “It was found that nurses harbouring conservative gender role attitudes are more vulnerable to burnout, and also less likely to improve their quality of care.”
This is not a call out for men to engage more in public health services and household health-related issues, but rather raising the question of whether toxic masculinity in society is stopping men from being caregivers and doing housework. As we know that men are capable of many kinds of tasks, they could be just as good at doing construction work as they are at doing caregiving and nursing work. But there is one certain thing stopping them from being healthcare workers and public health volunteers, the patriarchal stereotypes of our society. If men want to be healthcare workers, we need to make sure they get supported, not stigmatised.
It is time to adopt new norms that support people of any gender to accept both the masculine and feminine sides of people. It is such a shame that these stereotypes could be stopping men from joining the nursing or public health profession, which would be a major boon in helping to relieve the burden from women who are working in the frontline of healthcare services, especially in the time of COVID-19.
Monroe & Kroning (2020) stated that having more men enter the healthcare workforce would benefit both the institutions and the patients. As the healthcare workforce has forever been in shortage, having more male healthcare workers would directly benefit healthcare institutions. Moreover, whereas women patients usually prefer female nurses, some men would also prefer to be taken care of by male nurses.
That being said, as things currently stand, we need to rely heavily on women, and there are several further considerations that we must not forget. The Regional Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group (2020) also believe that to tackle the pandemic situation, we need to engage with women and rely on them to be the main driver for communicating with the local community. RCCE stated, “Previous epidemics illustrate the value of engaging with women when communicating about risks: Women are a disproportionate part of the health workforce, as primary caregivers to children, the elderly, and the ill, we must recognize and engage women in risk communication and community engagement.”
The United Nations Women has been advocating for and raising the issue that even though women are the front liners in this COVID-19 crisis, they have in contrast received limited support, “Women make essential contributions as frontline responders, but are hit harder by the health, economic and social impacts of the outbreak”. The situation is similar around the world: “Globally, women make up 70 percent of frontline workers in the health and social sector, like nurses, midwives, cleaners and laundry workers”, and a special policy should focus on supporting women in this time of need, “We need mitigation strategies that specifically target both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on women and that support and build women’s resilience.” (UN Women, 2020).
Despite the fact that women make up the majority of healthcare workers, many of them are paid less than men. Boniol et al. (2019) specified that, globally, women are estimated to be paid approximately 22% less than men. It is time for the employer to value the work of these tireless women health workers as much as how they value men’s work.
At present, Thai society tends to have more egalitarian attitudes towards working women, and we have passed the time when it was questioned whether women could work instead of staying at home and taking care of their children. However, they still get paid less, and they still come back home to do housework. These women need support from men in their households as they are working and volunteering in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. Improved education for people to understand more about gender equity is needed, as well as top-down policies from the government to control the gender pay gap between men and women.
- Florence Nightingale: One of the World’s First Feminists — Take The Lead. (2014). Retrieved 15 July 2020, from https://www.taketheleadwomen.com/.../florence-nightingale....
- Harding, T. (2007). The construction of men who are nurses as gay. Journal of advanced nursing, 60(6), 636-644.
- Liu, N. Y., Hsu, W. Y., Hung, C. A., Wu, P. L., & Pai, H. C. (2019). The effect of gender role orientation on student nurses’ caring behaviour and critical thinking. International journal of nursing studies, 89, 18-23.
- Monroe, I., & Kroning, M. (2020). It is Time to Recruit More Men into the Profession of Nursing. Retrieved 11 September 2020, from https://rn-journal.com/.../time-to-recruit-more-men-into...
- The Regional Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group (2020) COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement https://www.un.org/.../un-working-ensure-vulnerable...
- Ushiro, R., & Nakayama, K. (2010). Gender role attitudes of hospital nurses in Japan: Their relation to burnout, perceptions of physician–nurse collaboration, evaluation of care, and intent to continue working. Japan Journal of Nursing Science, 7(1), 55-64.
- Young, P., Hortis De Smith, V., Chambi, M. C., & Finn, B. C. (2011). Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), a 101 años de su fallecimiento [Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), 101 years after her death]. Revista edica de Chile, 139(6), 807–813.