In the first of a three-part series of webinars jointly organised by the Global Unions, Carolina Espinoza, PSI World Women's Committee titular, speaks about the role of public services and the reality of the front line for the health sector - a sector where women make up 70% of the workforce globally.
"Women workers in the front lines" the first in the series of webinars addressing women workers in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond included representatives of global unions from the trade, transport, hotel, agriculture, journalism, domestic workers and public services sectors. Carolina Espinoza, PSI World Women's Committee titular member and co-chair of the Inter-American Regional Women's Committee, represented PSI.
We are neither heroes nor martyrs
Espinoza described the lives of women in the public health sector, "we suffer in normal times from the precarization of labour and wage inequality, and today, in times of pandemic, these structural deficiencies of our public services are more evident.”
"we are neither heroes nor martyrs. We are health workers who need personal protection equipment to do our job well, and a new normality where public health services have sufficient resources to provide the population with a human right such as the right to health".
Espinoza painted a vivid picture pointing out the triple stress experienced by women working in public health services, both at work and at home and emotionally. A situation that is made more acute by the prevailing economic model, which has revealed that the lack of investment for more than 30 years has been a major mistake.
"The situation is complex, because we live in a neoliberal system where the shortage of public services is chronic, and in the context of this pandemic it is getting worse. There are not enough ventilators or critical care beds, there is a lack of testing, of personal protection equipment to avoid putting us at vital risk and undermining our ability to provide adequate life-saving health care."
Carolina further emphasized that these long days become even more complicated because the closure of educational establishments and day-care centers burden health workers with domestic care tasks, in addition to the strenuous hours they spend in hospitals and primary care.
A further complication in the sector for women, reports Espinoza, is the exposure to gender violence and the fear of being infected.
"Health workers make up 12% of the population infected with HIV in the world, and therefore we live in fear. Fear for our health, fear of becoming a focus of contagion for our loved ones. At this juncture we have also suffered some stigma or discrimination by the population that sees us as vectors of infection and that is also painful.”
In this sense, she recognized that, while the applause has encouraged health personnel to continue in the front line of the fight against this pandemic, she adds
"We are neither heroes nor martyrs. We are health workers who need personal protection equipment to do our job well, and a new normality where public health services have sufficient resources to provide the population with a human right such as the right to health".
Carolina Espinoza, PSI World Women's Committee Titular member
Public services are key to transforming the patriarchal culture and the structural causes of the discrimination that women experience. Protection systems and public policies provided by public services are essential to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
A normality with quality public services
On the role of public services in this pandemic, Carolina called for a look at the revelations of this crisis and an emphasis on what the global and organised labour movement wants to build in this new normality.
"We are convinced that public services are key to transforming the patriarchal culture and the structural causes of the discrimination that women experience. That is why we say that protection systems and public policies provided by public services are essential to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. We want a new normality, but with strong public services that transform women's unequal lives.
Furthermore, she said that privatisation does not affect men and women in the same way, because when governments privatise public services or do not invest in the health, education and water and sanitation sectors, it is women who have to take on more work and in worse conditions.
"We have to consider that one sixth of the world's population does not have access to clean water, and that in Africa it is women who have to carry this vital element into their homes, and that while girls carry water with their mothers, their brothers go to school," she said.
Therefore, she said, it is key and strategic to invest in public services because it is women who have the most access to them. "In this pandemic contingency, many of these services are being postponed in order to address the health crisis, and with this, we have a negative impact on the living conditions of these women, who today more than ever are experiencing domestic violence.
Finally, she said that the health and economic crisis must be overcome with fiscal justice, as PSI has stated. "We have to think about this new normality, from a reform of the global international tax system, to put an end to all mechanisms of tax evasion and avoidance, to tax havens, so that big business pays its share of taxes to invest in quality public services and promote from there the provision of all human rights, such as gender equality".
Global unions are join forces for a gender equal new normal in a series of webinars addressing women workers in the context of the COVID -19 pandemic and beyond: Together for a new normal.
COVID-19: Women Workers in the front lines
“Stopping gender-based violence in the midst of a pandemic” will be held on Tuesday 2nd June 2020 from 14.00 CEST to 15.30 CEST.
“A Gender Equal New Normal” will be held on Monday 15th June 2020 from 14.00 CEST to 15.30 CEST.