The Gender Data Gap and PPE for Female Healthcare Workers

The Gender Data Gap and PPE for Female Healthcare Workers

While we all watch the unfolding crisis over the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our brave healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 virus day and daily, we thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the gender inequity in protecting our healthcare professionals.

One of the largest gender inequities is the gap in scientific data on the basis of gender. In her remarkable book on the gender data gap ‘Invisible Women’ (one of AR’s research bibles), Caroline Criado Perez writes about all the ways our knowledge of disease, or our development of protective devices suffers from lack of sex disaggregated data (data that is analyzed separately on the basis of gender).

What she learned in researching her book is that most PPE is based on the sizes and characteristics of male populations from Europe and the US. There are many documented differences both physically and biologically between men and women. When these differences aren’t taken into consideration in making PPE, it can lead to significant health risks for women. Criado Perez sites a 2016 survey that found that with women working in a range of sectors, only 29% had PPE designed for women (Invisible Women, 125).

Most fields only require that employers buy smaller sizes – but women aren’t just smaller sized versions of men. This ‘unisex approach’ to PPE means that many elements of PPE don’t fit – including safety harnesses, protective vests, hazard and eye mask, safety boots, and safety gloves. When PPE doesn’t fit, it doesn’t protect – and as we see a growing number of healthcare workers exposed to the COVID-19 virus because of a lack of proper PPE, it’s worth remembering that even when they have it, we’re leaving women more exposed.

This is frightening least of all because women make up the majority of healthcare workers. It’s a startling lack of consideration for the basic differences between men and women and it’s going to cost lives. If you work in a field that requires PPE in any format, we encourage you to investigate how the sizes are determined, and whether you can get specific equipment for your female employees.

You can listen to Criado Perez talk more about gender and the Coronavirus here.

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