Call to women to boost gender equity in healthcare

August 17, 2022

We’re almost at the end of Women’s Month, which possibly impacted us, both men and women of South Africa, one way or another – acknowledging the huge role that women play in the smooth running of our workplaces, homes and communities.

But if we take this thinking a bit further, we can see that more that can be done by women for women. Women form the foundation of the healthcare industry’s employee base, delivering service excellence that’s both proactive and responsive to the needs of people within the sectors. But gender inequity becomes obvious when considering senior leadership and ownership positions within those sectors.

Chantel Bellora, Director of Operations, Pple Healthcare and Pple Hospitality, says women themselves are often in a position to boost gender equity as well as transformational equity within organisations where they are decision-makers in hiring staff. “The benefits of a more gender equitable and transformational working environment are well documented. A diverse staff base brings a wide variety of people with different experiences, skills and insights together to solve problems, which increases innovation, creativity and strategic thinking; it encourages smarter decision-making, which can lead to increased productivity and profits. Likewise, leadership within departments and businesses also benefits when it is more diverse.”

South Africa’s track record in gender equality has room for improvement, and while great strides are being made in some areas and within some sectors and organisations, there are others where change is needed, and where gender equity and empowerment must be a focus area.

Inspiration and motivation for this ‘women empowering women’ standpoint starts 66 years ago, when women led the 9 August 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings to protest the pass laws being promulgated against women. On that day, the spirit of diversity and inclusion was highlighted clearly by the four key leaders of the 9 August 1956 women’s march – Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie de Bruyn. If reignited in South Africa today, that same spirit of unity could significantly impact gender equality across the country.

Michael Charton, in his talk about the march leaders titled ‘You Strike the Rock’ addresses their diversity: “Each had emerged from different cultural backgrounds; each from different parts of the country; and each born to a different decade. Yet, they came together. Uniting, in order to lead decisive action against the state.”

Earlier this month, on Women’s Day, the last surviving leader of the march, Sophie de Bruyn, visited the graves of the other three leaders of the Women’s March where she encouraged young women to get involved in pushing to make the country a better place for women. “As young people it’s incumbent on you to get involved. You have to be committed. You have to be bold and brave. Your enemies are many. You have the enemies of poverty, unemployment, and gender-based violence.”

An article on BioMed Central’s website – ‘Reflecting on the current scenario and forecasting the future demand for medical doctors in South Africa up to 2030: towards equal representation of women’ – states, “While increasing feminisation of medical professions is well-acknowledged, this does not equate to equitable representation of women within medicine, regarding their socio-demographic indicators, regions, sectors and fields of practice.”

Based on their investigation, BMC proposes that healthcare planning incorporate gender equity targets to inform planning for production of healthcare workers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted in 2019 that the health and social sector is one of the biggest and fastest growing employers in the world, particularly of women. Women make up seven in 10 health and social care workers globally, although half in the form of unpaid care work.

But while women’s participation in healthcare is strong, the WHO added, “Further policies are needed to address inequities, eliminate gender-based discrimination in earnings, remove barriers to access to full-time employment, and support access to professional development and leadership roles.”

Within South Africa’s healthcare sector, women can inspire change and gender equity at all levels, focusing on their fellow women and recognising a need, an injustice in their lives, an opportunity to help them advance their career, a story to share, a problem to solve, and then harness the strengths they have, remembering that they’re standing on the shoulders of giants in South Africa’s history.

As Global Citizen noted towards the end of 2020, “It’s no coincidence that all four of this year’s finalists for the prestigious Global Citizen Prize for World Leaders happen to be women. While women only lead 21 countries and have been hit hardest socially and economically during the Covid pandemic, they are also behind the most effective response plans, with female-led countries being praised throughout the pandemic as examples to follow.”