The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the limitations of the United States and Europe’s current approach to global health. Experts had long predicted the rapid spread of a contagious respiratory virus. But while global health spending increased at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent from 2000 to 2017, countries around the world were ill-prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, global shutdowns, and the economic shocks that followed.
Women experience unique challenges during global health crises, and COVID-19 has exacerbated preexisting gender inequalities, including domestic violence and access to critical health care. Women’s economic participation has also suffered. According to the International Labor Organization and U.N. Women, 41 percent of women work in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic: hospitality, real estate, business, manufacturing, and retail. A recent McKinsey study found that the pandemic has adversely affected women, particularly women of color; one in four women are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce entirely.
While policymakers often see women as vulnerable, they rarely view them as agents of change critical to crisis preparedness and response. The few women accorded leadership roles during the pandemic have performed better on average than their male counterparts: Witness the resounding reelection of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last October on the back of her successful COVID-19 response. Still, women remain dramatically underrepresented in positions of power in government and across the global health system.
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There Will Be Another Pandemic. Women Can Stop It.