The Executive Director, Women in Global Health, Dr Roopa Dhatt has said the alarming rate of sexual harassment of women in the health sector is rooted in abuse of power more than by sexual attraction.
Dr. Dhatt said this in line with an upcoming report by Women in Global Health ‘Her Story: Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment of Women Health Workers’ set to be published on December 13, which exposes the sexual harassment and abuse at work experienced by significant numbers of women health workers.
One of the major drivers of the abuse stated in the report is the power imbalance favoring men in the hierarchical health profession. Men currently occupy 75 percent of all leadership roles in health, with women clustered in lower-status, lower-paying roles. This power dynamic has created an enabling environment for perpetrators, the report says.
Dr. Dhatt said “if the male perpetrators knew they would be sanctioned and lose their jobs; that they would be publicly shamed, they would be unlikely to do it. They know they can get away with it.”
Speaking about the reports documented by the women, Dr. Dhatt said “Personal stories are harder to ignore. They describe the compliance of colleagues, the lack of reporting, the fear of reprisal and job loss, the lack of mechanisms for receiving complaints, and the absence of laws to prosecute. The testimonies present a clear view of an enabling environment for perpetrators.”
From global to institutional to personal level, the report calls for establishing the legal foundations for gender equality in the workforce and for a culture change so that perpetrators of abuse are reported and sanctioned.
“We need organizational cultures that encourage upstanders not bystanders. Leadership from the top. The need for employment legislation and employment rights to protect women is key, particularly to enable reporting, with provisions for confidentiality. Such measures would also serve as a deterrent to other would-be perpetrators,” said Ann Keeling, Senior Fellow with Women in Global Health and lead author of the report.
Other recommendations include equal leadership representation of women in health; addressing social norms and stereotypes on gender equality, and providing safe and decent work environments. Also recommended is the need to work collectively for change through the introduction of investigatory systems that center on and protect survivors, including ensuring that perpetrators face justice promptly.
The report lists several excerpts of anonymous stories submitted by 230 women in 37 countries across the world. The alarming level of violence and sexual harassment faced by health workers is a serious human rights violation for women who make up 70 percent of the global health workforce and 90 percent of frontline staff.