Posted on: Tue 02-04-2024

Anew report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown how gender inequalities in health and care work negatively impact women, health systems and health outcomes.

The report, titled, ‘Fair Share for Health and Care’ outlined how undervaluation of healthcare work, and underinvestment in health systems results in a vicious cycle of unpaid health and care work, lowers women’s participation in paid labour markets, harms women’s economic empowerment and hamper gender equality. Women comprise 67 per cent of the paid global health and care workforce. It has been estimated that women perform an estimated 76 per cent of all unpaid care activities. Work that is done primarily by women tends to be paid less and have poor working conditions.

The report highlights that low pay and demanding working conditions are commonly found in the health and care sector, adding that devaluing caregiving, which is work performed primarily by women, negatively impacts wages, working conditions, productivity and the economic footprint of the sector.

The report showed that decades of chronic underinvestment in health and care work is contributing to a growing global crisis of care. With stagnation in progress towards universal health coverage (UHC), resulting in 4.5 billion people lacking full coverage of essential health services, women may take on even more unpaid care work.

The deleterious impact of weak health systems combined with increasing unpaid health and care work are further straining the health of caregivers and the quality of services.

According to WHO Director for Health Workforce, Jim Campbell, the ‘Fair Share’ report highlights how gender-equitable investments in health and care work would reset the value of health and care and drive fairer and more inclusive economies.

He called on leaders, policy-makers and employers to action investment, saying, “It is time for a fair share for health and care.”

The report presents policy levers to better value health and care work to improve working conditions for all forms of health and care work, especially for highly feminised occupations including women more equitably in the paid labour workforce.

It stated that enhancing conditions of work and wages in the health and care workforce will ensure equal pay for work of equal value, address the gender gap in care, support quality care work and uphold the rights and well-being of caregivers, ensure that national statistics account for, measure and value all health and care work.

The report also stressed the need to invest in robust public health systems, noting that investments in health and care systems not only accelerate progress on UHC, but they also redistribute unpaid health and care work. “When women participate in paid health and care employment, they are economically empowered and health outcomes are better. Health systems need to recognise, value and invest in all forms of health and care work,” it added.