Men are making most of the decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic – a disturbing pattern that could be costing lives.
An analysis of 115 decision-making and key advisory bodies from 87 countries found that over 85% contain mostly men and only 11% contain predominantly women, with gender parity in just 3.5%.
The situation wasn’t much better at the international level, according to the research that published Thursday in the journal BMJ Global Health. For instance, the World Health Organization’s first, second and third International Health Regulations Emergency Committee members consisted of 23.8%, 23.8% and 37.5% women, respectively.
“Reaching a critical mass of women in leadership – even as result of intentional selection or quotas – benefits governance processes,” the researchers said.
Having more women involved in decision-making, the researchers said, disrupted groupthink, led to more novel viewpoints and a higher quality of monitoring and management as well as more effective risk management.
Countries led by women have had “systematically better” outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic, with female leaders locking down earlier and suffering half as many deaths from Covid-19, research published in June found.
Women less likely to be heard
The lack of women on decision-making and advisory bodies also means that issues relevant to women during the pandemic are less likely to be heard.
While Covid-19 has hit men harder as an illness, the long-term economic and societal consequences of the pandemic could fall more heavily on women’s shoulders. Early indications are that women have been harder hit by the coronavirus recession.
Previous pandemics, such as Zika and Ebola, have had negative consequences for women, such as increased rates of maternal ill health and death as well as unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, the researchers said.
Not all governments are publicly releasing Covid-related data broken down by sex.
Fewer than one in three of the world’s countries are reporting sex-disaggregated data for both Covid-19 cases and deaths, according to a tracker compiled by the Global Health 50/50 initiative at University College London.
The authors of the study said data on the membership, leadership and areas of expertise on advisory and decision-making bodies was “neither easily accessible nor publicly available.”
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“Men dominating leadership positions in global health has long been the default mode of governing,” the researchers added.
“This not only reinforces inequitable power structures but undermines an effective COVID-19 response – ultimately costing lives.”