Women bearing the brunt of Covid pain and drastic action is needed

The majority of healthcare workers are women, and both formal and informal caring roles mostly fall to women as well. Then there is the additional challenge of increased pressure on the domestic front, writes campaign group Covid Women’s Voices
Women bearing the brunt of Covid pain and drastic action is needed

Our largely female healthcare force, facing dual challenges in the workplace and at home, can only absorb so much of the societal and economic shocks of Covid-19, writes Covid Women's Voices

In the war against Covid-19, women are not only on the frontline, but are disproportionately bearing the burden of a pandemic that has heralded untold grief and wrought economic havoc. Now in our third lockdown, the coronavirus has thrown into stark relief the inequalities, including structural, social and economic barriers, still faced by women.

In the EU alone, 76% of healthcare workers are women. The majority of care roles  (those looking after the elderly and people with a disability) are also held by women, often with precarious, part time arrangements. Informal care work is ascribed little value, but its cost to carers’ physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing is enormous.

Our largely female healthcare force, facing dual challenges in the workplace and at home, can only absorb so much of the societal and economic shocks of Covid-19.

Women working in healthcare can no longer take the strain of carrying the burden of providing essential medical services, in the absence of childcare, whilst supervising homeschooling and caring for vulnerable family members at home.

We are exhausted and, in many cases, traumatised by the perils of treating this disease and watching patients suffer and die. Many of our number have had to leave the frontline, many unlikely to return, owing to the near impossible task of juggling commitments, and the emotional distress sustained on the frontline, resulting in large scale burnout.

Losing healthcare workers to burnout is an appalling indictment of the State’s failure to recognise the challenges facing us, and their failure to support us in our vital roles. Around the country, many healthcare workers feel abandoned by the State as they place their lives, literally, on the line for their patients and for the health and security of the wider economy.

Lockdowns, an emergency response to uncontrolled numbers, are not a long-term means of suppressing the virus as our now twice tried and twice-failed lockdowns have demonstrated.

Our largely female healthcare force, facing dual challenges in the workplace and at home, can only absorb so much of the societal and economic shocks of Covid-19. Picture: Istock
Our largely female healthcare force, facing dual challenges in the workplace and at home, can only absorb so much of the societal and economic shocks of Covid-19. Picture: Istock

Based on our multiple fields of expertise we believe that significant, targeted resources, justified in the public interest, are required to avoid a fourth lockdown. Compared to the financial, emotional and societal costs of a lockdown-release-lockdown cycle, the application of such resources exceeds any value-for-money test.

With current Level Five restrictions set to continue to until at least March 5, access to in-person schooling for a select group of essential workers, including our predominantly female teaching cohort, must be facilitated.

Healthcare workers with younger children should have access to childcare provision, free of charge, during Level 5 restrictions and special protections must be afforded to care workers living in direct provision who have been granted permission to work.

These measures alone would vastly reduce the burden of care facing the Irish healthcare service and help improve the outcome of patients. As vaccinations will not have reached a wide enough section of the population by early March, there is a real risk that we face a fourth wave of illness and a lockdown in the late spring or summer.

That risk remains unmitigated without the following measures:

  • 1. Recognition of the importance of our Public Health teams. Appropriate investment, improved IT systems, and increased staffing are required to allow rapid identification and containment of indigenous clusters of Covid 19.
  • 2. Supervision, enforcement and practical support for those, including inbound travellers, who need to be quarantined, with requisite supports and supervision for close contacts.
  • 3. Special supports for those in crowded accommodation, including members of the Traveller/ Mincéir and Roma communities – as well as those in Direct Provision - and direct engagement with vulnerable communities to provide information and support around the suppression of Covid 19.

It is inconceivable that the voices of women, who are now the majority in Ireland, are not being sufficiently heard on these critical issues. But they must be heard. Because we can’t do another wave. And you can’t do it without us.

Covid Women’s Voices is an all Island diverse and large group of women who work in medicine, health care, psychology, law, academia, advocacy etc. We have formed a coalition to highlight the issues impacting disproportionally on women, gender imbalance in leadership roles and the lack of visible women in decision making at a number of levels.

Dr Illona Duffy GP; Sinead McGarry social worker; Dr Ciara McCarthy GP; Jennifer Moran Stritch director; Dr Gabrielle Colleran consultant; Dr Sindy Joyce academic; Prof Susan Smith GP; Prof Clíona Ní Cheallaigh; Dr Kim Roberts virologist, Aoife Doyle consultant, Dr Nóirín Russell consultant, Dr Sharon Lambert applied psychologist, Seána Grant barrister, Dr Aoife O’Sullivan GP, Dr Niamh O’Brien GP, Dr Elaine Kenny CEO, Dr Hilary McLoughlin consultant Dr Dorothy Breen consultant, Dr Niamh Lynch consultant, Ms Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh medical student, Dr Criona Walsh consultant, Dr Jean Donnelly consultant, Helene McManus healthcare manager, Kate Morris public policy specialist, Dr Doireann O’Leary GP, Dr Ida Milne historian, Hazel O’Sullivan teacher, Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon GP, Brigid Murray family support service, Anne Marie Quilligan social care worker, Ejiro Ogbevoen psychotherapist, Dr Natalie Hession psychologist, Dr Veronica O’Doherty psychologist, Rose Marie Maughan community development officer, Dr Sheila Kissane psychologist, Sandra Morton registered nurse, Dr Marie Casey public health specialist, Laura Byrne pharmacist, Dr Sinead O’Malley social worker

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