March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. This year’s theme for Women’s History Month is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” as a tribute to the ceaseless work that caregivers and health care workers have provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roughly 80 percent of health care workers and 83 percent of workers providing social assistance, including child care and emergency services, are women, according to Time’s Up, a non-profit group that raises money to support victims of sexual harassment.
“Women experience things differently, particularly if they had traditional caregiver roles,” said Laura Sinko, a nursing professor. “Across the board, nurses and health care providers in general have been really hit hard by the pandemic.”
During Women’s History Month this year, it’s important we all give back to women in health care and acknowledge their hard work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting health care workers can include volunteering time in medical facilities, asking health care workers in our lives how we can support them and advocating for equitable policies regarding parental leave, sick days and child support.
Students can begin celebrating Women’s History Month this year by learning about the accomplishments of female medical pioneers in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, said Dr. Mary Kraemer, a clinical medicine professor.
For example, after being rejected by all Philadelphia medical schools and the Philadelphia Medical Society, Ann Preston went on to recruit an all-women board to establish the Woman’s Hospital of Pennsylvania in 1861 where women could receive clinical training.
Many of these female medical pioneers are left out of history, said Sraavya Pinjala, a sophomore biology major.
“There are so many unsung heroes, women who haven’t been given credit when they should have and aren’t a part of history,” Pinjala said. “Think about all the women who have made such incredible contributions to science and so many things, but never really got that recognition.”
Giving credit to women highlights struggles that are not discussed enough, such as gender roles in the STEM field, Pinjala said.
“The care that we do, as women, is often seen as not as important,” said Anne Frankel, a social and behavioral sciences professor.
Gender stereotypes teach women that men are more qualified than them to work in STEM fields, which has made women in STEM less likely to share ideas and more likely to discount positive feedback on their work and struggle developing confidence in themselves, according to the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, an organization that publishes articles about faculty research.
Learning about women’s work in medicine and other STEM-related fields raises awareness of the additional burdens women experience in the workplace due to societal expectations like their roles in the home or workplace.
For example, women working in health care fields often face obstacles like unequal pay, unsatisfactory working conditions, limited opportunities for career advancement, work-related stress and unfavorable policies promoting the patriarchy, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
With Women’s History Month’s theme of hope and healing, it’s important to express emotional support for female caretakers and health care workers. These roles have high liability and dependency on women, so it’s imperative to offer them compassion during times of crisis.
And although it’s good to express support through simpler methods like following COVID-19 protocols, the real step needed is advocacy for health care workers’ rights to parental and sick leave.
“When we think of giving back and maybe our first thought is saying thank you, or some of the things that we participated in during the pandemic, like writing notes, or putting up banners or doing gift boxes for our health care providers,” Frankel said. “We need to do more than that.”
Advocacy for more equitable workplace policies for women can include calling out discriminatory policies and enabling others to use their voices to speak up, volunteering with women’s rights organizations or continuing activism online.
While it’s important for students to donate their time by advocating for equitable policies in the health care industry or donating time for child support, they should also help lower pandemic burnout for women, especially nurses.
Two of the easiest ways to give back during Women’s History Month are following COVID-19 protocols to reduce hospitalization rates and donating blood to help address the current blood shortage, Sinko said.
On Jan. 11, the American Red Cross announced it was experiencing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and must wait.
There are many ways to give back to female health care workers during Women’s History Month. Everyone must give back to female health care workers to acknowledge their hard work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.