News, Workforce

Health worker sexual abuse reporting site launched

sexual abuse

Women in Global Health launch #HealthToo Project today, a platform to compile reporting of sexual abuse of health workers.

Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harrasment (SEAH) is a considerably under-reported form of violence healthcare workers face, according to Women in Global Health, an organization that campaigns for the protection of women workers in healthcare settings.

“There is a huge gap in data and research related SEAH in the health and care sector from all regions, with the most serious absence of data is in low- and middle-income countries, where women are reportedly the most affected, ” said Dr Magda Robalo, Global Managing Director, Women in Global Health.

A majority 62 percent of 330,000 health workers across a range of countries reported exposure to work related violence and harassment (WRVH) in a single year, according to the Journal for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. But this data is not disaggregated to separate the SEAH component.

In response, Women in Global Health launch today a new platform and research project entitled “#HealthToo”, to seek, compile and document stories from women health workers who have experienced work-related SEAH. The platform is open for individual story contributions from September 5 to November 30, 2022. By submitting their stories anonymously, women will be able to share their experiences freely without risking job security or personal repercussions in their place of work.

Rarely discussed, under-reported

Currently, a large percentage of women in the global health workforce face discrimination, bias and sexual harassment in their work. In some countries, women also experience WRVH either on the way to work or when engaged in community outreach.

The causes vary: many women face unprotected exposure to sexual and violent acts because perpetrators remain unaccountable in work settings owing to a lack of legal and policy frameworks, poor or no follow up, under reporting due to fear of retribution or issues around standard of proof. Other factors have also contributed to the abuse, including women’s segregation into lower status roles, systemic bias and discrimination in the health care sector.

In several contexts, particularly low- and middle-income countries, there is no legislative framework in place to support gender equality at work and no laws to prohibit and punish sexual discrimination and sexual harassment at work.

“Work-related SEAH in the health workforce is an extension of the gender-based violence against women and girls that we witness every day, and in the vast majority of cases, it is perpetrated by male colleagues, male patients/clients and male members of the community,” said Dr. Robalo.

“The presence of women at all levels…makes an immediate difference.”

Dr Magda Robalo, Global Managing Director, Women in Global Health

If not acted upon urgently and consistently, such acts create unsafe and toxic work environments that affect retention of women staff, reduce their physical and mental health leading to increased healthcare costs and a reduction in the quality of care provided.

By addressing the root causes of gender inequity in the health and care workforce and challenging the power and privilege afforded to men, Women in Global Health aims to contribute to the overall reduction of workplace SEAH in global health and therefore strengthen health systems.

This should be backed with concrete action by decision makers to put appropriate laws and policies in place, including ratification and implementation of the International Labour Organization Convention 190 (cILO 190).

“There is no single pathway to solve sexual exploitation and abuse but the presence of women at all levels from leadership down, coupled with adequate laws and policies makes an immediate difference by creating a conducive, motivating and empowering work environment free of such abuse and discrimination,“ said Dr Robalo.