As a nurse champion, I speak not only for myself but many others in our profession who face both personal and systemic gender bias. Because nursing is still mostly a female profession, how nurses are treated in the healthcare setting typically reflects how women are regarded in the society and culture that is predominantly masculine. For example, the global health workforce comprises more than 70% women, 90% of whom are nurses, and yet women only occupy 25% of leadership roles. The few men in nursing are often discriminated against in the work environment. They are often called upon for more physically-tasking patient care activities since they are presumed stronger; or their career choices and sexuality may be questioned based on gender stereotypes that consider nursing to be a feminine occupation. The poor public perceptions that discern nurses to be less competent than, say, doctors, and other entities such as the media that continues to perpetuate sexual stereotypes of nurses, are also significant contributors to gender bias. When subjected to these gendered, sociocultural, and occupational barriers, nurses are often discouraged from advancing their careers, advocating for equal pay, or seeking professional and leadership development opportunities which would otherwise equip them with the skills to effectively advocate for themselves and for their patients. This is particularly problematic especially given that the lack of representation at the top, at the table and in conference rooms where critical decisions are made can have an impact on individual and population health worldwide. Therefore, programs and initiatives such as WomenLift Health and NTNGI are needed to equip women with the skills that they need to challenge the status quo and speak up for gender balance.
My perspectives are informed by my status as a Ugandan-born individual, and my experience as a Uganda-American nurse, nursing professor and researcher who is currently working in Uganda. I am also a co-founder of our nonprofit, Nurse-to-Nurse Global Initiative (NTNGI) whose mission, in part, is to promote the empowerment and advancement of leadership and professional development of nurses, especially those in low-resourced settings. Progress in gender balance in Uganda continues to be painstakingly slow and yet desperately needed. Although the Ugandan government has made a few strides towards creating equal opportunities for economic advancement, women continue to experience deeply rooted systemic and cultural inequalities that threaten their wellbeing and that of their children. There’s a myriad of sociocultural factors that continue to perpetuate gender bias practices. These include traditional practices such as forced marriages, especially in rural settings, in which young girls are forced into marriages and deprived of their childhood. This often subjects them to gender based violence, sexual abuse and exploitation from dissatisfied older husbands who may accuse them of not measuring up to their paid dowry price. Other gender-based challenges experienced by women in Uganda include human trafficking and migrant/employment exploitation in which school-age women are coerced to the Middle East and other regions by predatory agencies and subjected to mistreatment, violence and even death. Therefore, a significant amount of effort is required of the Ugandan government to rigorously implement laws and policies that promote gender equality, women rights, and empowerment. Multilateral entities, nongovernmental organisations and the international community need to advocate for and ensure that women and girls are empowered and have equal opportunities for education, employment, representation, leadership and social protection of their rights.