Kaylee Sheppard

On Feb. 29, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a notorious photo of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce. This photo was scrutinized for one obvious reason: there were no women.

Now, the task force does include a few women who are doing great work, but they are vastly outnumbered by men in the task force.

And I know, I know. I give the Trump administration a tough time, but this lack of female input could be detrimental in the COVID-19 response.

First of all, these are the people that decide what plans of actions to take and where to send federal dollars. Without a female perspective, less money will go towards addressing the hurdles women face.

For instance, much controversy has surrounded hospitals’ policies for pregnant women giving birth during the COVID-19 crisis. A woman is more likely to think of and understand these issues and raise these concerns.

I am not yet aware of any gender analysis of the outbreak by global health institutions. However, recognizing the extent to which disease outbreaks affect women and men differently is an essential step in understanding the effects of a health emergency like COVID-19 on different individuals and communities and for creating equitable but effective policies and interventions.

Also, the majority of healthcare workers around the world fighting this virus are women. For example, in China 90% of the nurses and nearly half the doctors are female.

Although the majority of healthcare workers are women, they are a minority in decision making roles. Despite the fact that women make up 70% of the health workforce, they only comprise 25% of senior leadership positions in health organizations around the world.

Another huge factor is how infectious diseases and other health crisis affect men and women differently. For example, the Zika outbreak was disproportionately harmful to women.

According to a comment in “The Lancet by a global group of researchers, “We are not aware of any gender analysis of the outbreak by global health institutions or governments in affected countries or in preparedness phases.”

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in the US and worldwide, governments and health organizations must commit to ensuring that women in leadership positions are not the exceptions, but are equally represented. We must also collect sex-disaggregated data throughout this pandemic, so we can better understand the unique impacts women are facing compared to men.

Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached at ksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

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