Women represent 70% of the world’s health workforce. Whether we are talking about community health workers, surgeons, nurses and midwives, or informal caregivers, the contributions of women to healthier communities and countries is undeniable. With unique insight into the health needs of women and girls, female health workers are particularly well positioned to fill essential gaps in health care delivery, including gender-competent family planning services and breastfeeding as part of maternal-newborn care.
Seed Global Health educates a rising generation of health professionals to strengthen access to quality care in order to improve health and save lives. And we know that with women comprising such a large part of the professional health workforce, we must pay special attention to the women who will serve as physicians, nurses, and midwives, as their advanced training and professional expertise will be critical to addressing the double burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases taxing many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
To strengthen health for the long term, we must empower girls today as they will be and must be the women on the front lines of health tomorrow.
In honor of International Day of the Girl on October 11, here are three ideas to empower girls on the frontlines of health so they can be prepared and supported for careers in the health workforce:
- Advocate for policies that close the gender pay gap. In Africa, the average woman makes about 70% of a salary earned by a man for the same role. Economic participation by women is important to all sectors, but none more so than healthcare, where women are needed not just to close the workforce gap but to lead clinics, hospitals, and governments towards a healthier future. If we want to encourage more girls to envision productive, rewarding careers in health care, we must support policies that ensure they receive fair and equal compensation, and send a signal early on that girls and boys have equal value in health care.
- Increase STEM education to inspire girls for healthcare careers. Seed Global Health believes in a future in which every country has a robust health workforce that is able to meet the health needs of its population. Supporting training of health care professionals and health educators can start early, when we teach girls science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at a young age. Girls can be catalysts of change in health, and early exposure to STEM helps build an even stronger pipeline of women in Africa’s health systems.
- Champion women who are leading in global health. Girls rarely see women leaders in health care that they can look up to as role models. That’s because despite holding 70% of the jobs in health care globally, women make up only 35% of health care leadership around the world. If we want girls to see themselves as the health care leaders of tomorrow, we need to empower more women leaders in health care now, and ensure their voices are heard at all levels of clinical and governmental decision making. Women Leaders in Global Health – who will host their annual conference next month – is one organization helping lead this charge.
If women are essential to the health workforce, and health workers are the key to a healthier future, the case for focusing on girls today is clear: empowered girls will grow up to create and lead a healthier world.