Traditionally known as the ‘shock absorbers of society’, women comprise the majority of the healthcare force but are scarce in the leadership ranks.
Here’s the experience of a 33-year old community activist and artist, Emma Robbins. She travelled with award-winning actor Sean Penn and famous filmmaker and video director Sam Bayer who was visiting Navajo Nation for a meeting with its President to discuss how Penn’s organization, Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) could provide aid and assistance to control the COVID-19 pandemic in that region.
The week Robbins visited the Navajo Nation, its COVID-19 infection rate increased to more than that of New York or New Jersey. As a result, the federal government assigned a $600 million fund to Navajo Nation under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While everyone had several opinions on the monetary utilization, Robbins noticed the lack of hygiene and sanitation in that area. Even though people travelled, they didn’t have access to clean water and this was mentally wearing out people as well as spreading the infection. She gave her suggestion and it had the desired impact.
The practical approach to handle COVID-19 crisis given by Robbins mirrors the contribution of crores of women around the world who are directly involved in Coronavirus pandemic response. Whether serving as frontline workers, caregivers at nursing homes or community activists, women are handling the pandemic as well as they are taking care of their families and childcare responsibilities. With the majority of the patriarchy, pushing child-raising and family welfare duties on women, they are proving their mettle in whichever sphere they touch.
However, when it comes to leadership roles and decision-making positions, women are lagging far behind. The WHO estimated that while women constituted about 70% of the healthcare force globally, only 25% of leadership positions are held by them.
As conventional ideas restrict women from decision-making positions, the COVID-19 crisis has posed as an opportunity for women to express their talents and leverage better leadership positions. According to Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, more women taking up the lead in emergency responses and global healthcare policies will surely translate to positive changes. Byanyima is from Uganda who has an engineering degree and worked for Uganda Airlines and the National Resistance Army to overturn President Milton Obote. She was also the executive director of Oxfam International.
She says, “People who have historically been on the outside transform a situation because they bring new perspectives, new issues, new needs to the table.”
Speaking about COVID-19, Byanyima said that the world needs to look no further than nations with female leaders. Germany, New Zealand and Norway are praised widely for their progress in contact tracing, testing and other measures to contain the spread of infection. Several analysis reports show that women-led governments have been able to flatten the curve and soon move towards reopening. Women are as efficient as their male counterparts and with more recognition of their merit; they will surely be able to flatten the COVID-19 curve.