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Gender Discrimination Isn't Stopping Women from Delivering Lifesaving Vaccines – United Nations Foundation

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By Holly Greb on April 5, 2022
A baby receives a vaccine in Kano State, Nigeria. Photo: Andrew Esiebo/ UN Foundation
Women are essential to global vaccination efforts around the world, overcoming gender discrimination, stigma, and even violence to protect every child against vaccine-preventable diseases. Keep reading to learn more about their experiences, in their own words, and what it will take to strengthen gender equality in the health workforces of the future.
Immunization is the backbone of primary health care, responsible for saving the lives of 2-3 million children each year and protecting entire communities from disease outbreaks and other types of health emergencies. And at the heart of immunization efforts around the world, you will find women.
Women make up 70% of our severely understaffed global health care workforce. They are on the front lines of immunization programs around the world, defying the odds to ensure that every child is protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.
In communities where it is often considered culturally inappropriate for male health workers to enter homes, women are the only ones who can reach unprotected children. As front-line vaccinators they trek long hours, often in unsafe areas, to deliver lifesaving vaccines. In doing so they encounter harassment, social stigmas, and even violence and targeted attacks on account of their gender. Many health workers have lost their lives trying to give the next generation a healthy start in life.
Women also play many other essential roles in global immunization programs, whether as social mobilizers, program managers, subject matter experts, laboratory technicians, procurement specialists, trainers, or caregivers. And yet, women are still woefully underrepresented in executive and decision-making roles that govern vaccination programs and health care more broadly.
Despite the obstacles, women have continued to make vital contributions to programs across the globe. In their own words, women working in immunization around the world describe how they have experienced and overcome gender discrimination.
 
 
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Ensuring a healthier, safer, and more equitable world requires resilient health systems staffed by health workers whose needs are being met and whose contributions are being fully utilized. It’s imperative that the health care workforce of the future — staffed largely by women — is shaped with gender in mind and that all contributions and innovations are fully leveraged to deliver for children. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has already committed to this work and has pledged to fully integrate a gender perspective across all levels of programming within five years.
As the international health community focuses on building stronger health workforces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vital role women play in health care must not only be recognized but also championed. It’s time to strengthen gender equity moving forward and apply a gender lens at every level as we build the health care workforce of the future — ensuring safe, paid work and equal opportunity to contribute to programming and decision-making.
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United Nations Foundation
320 East 43rd Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212.697.3315
United Nations Foundation
1750 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: 202.887.9040
Fax: 202.887.9021

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