The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stark reminder of the persistent gender disparities in our societies, emphasising the urgent need to advance women's rights. Throughout the crisis, it became evident that women and gender-diverse individuals faced unique challenges. Despite constituting over 70% of the healthcare workforce globally, women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles within the sector. Moreover, the pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities, with women experiencing higher levels of harassment and violence during lockdowns, coupled with diminishing support services. Additionally, they bore the brunt of domestic labour responsibilities, further widening the gender gap. 

As communities across the world continue to face outbreaks of infectious disease, compounded by the escalating impacts of climate change, it is imperative that we integrate gender perspectives into emergency preparedness and response efforts across health systems and society as a whole. This International Women’s Day, themed 'Invest in Women – Accelerate Change', calls for concrete action, particularly in the realm of outbreak response. Within my role as Social Equity and Human Rights Officer in the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, I am prioritising three key areas to contribute to gender equality within outbreak response: 

1. Championing gender considerations from the outset 

It is crucial to allocate resources for and conduct comprehensive gender analysis at the onset of any project or response. By understanding the specific impact of outbreaks on women and gender-diverse individuals, decision-makers can tailor response strategies to address their unique needs. In my capacity as EHR officer, I focus on bringing together information for our deployable experts in rapid briefings on gender and women’s rights within outbreak contexts, enabling our teams to make informed decisions that account for the intersecting factors of gender and other characteristics. 

2. Collaborating with local gender experts 

To ensure that our response efforts are truly inclusive and effective, we must actively engage with gender experts and organisations led by women within the communities we serve. These partnerships not only enhance our understanding of local contexts but also empower women with lived experience to play a more significant role in decision-making processes related to outbreak response. I have had the privilege of connecting with several inspiring women, such as Stellah Bosire, Executive Director for the Africa Centre for Health Systems & Gender Justice, who work across Africa to promote inclusive policies to improve health outcomes and reduce gender disparities.Through collaboration and knowledge-sharing, we can harness the expertise and insights of those who are already driving change within their communities. 

3. Supporting women at all levels of the health system 

While promoting women's leadership is crucial, we must also address structural barriers that hinder women's advancement across the healthcare sector. UK-PHRST’s research into the role of caregivers (often occupied by women) in infection prevention control demonstrates the importance of gender roles in containing outbreaks in both clinical and community settings. In addition, future UK-PHRST social sciencecapacity strengthening work to upskill community health workers will focus on the power women have in reaching all parts of the community. By investing in training programs and initiatives that promote gender equality at all levels of the health system, we can create more inclusive and equitable environments for women to thrive. 

A collective endeavour to achieve gender equality 

Despite the growing consensus on the importance of gender equality in outbreak response, challenges persist. Meaningful action is needed to address the systemic inequalities that women face. This International Women’s Day serves as a reminder that gender equality is not just a one-day affair or the responsibility of a select few; it is a collective endeavour that requires sustained effort and commitment from all stakeholders. This can be challenging when we acknowledge that gender and other structural forms of power will interact with an outbreak in dynamic and changeable ways.Concurrently, the category of ‘woman’ must be interrogated to produce solutions that respond to the diversity of health experiences within this category. Meaningful inclusion and investment works to understand and address power imbalances, and ensures that women’s issues are not left in a silo but woven throughout outbreak response. 


Please Sign in (or Register) to view further.