International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:20 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 5:20 pm, 7th March 2019

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. As other noble Lords have said, it is an occasion for both celebration and publicising what more needs to be done, and an opportunity for renewing the energy for and commitment to more advocacy and change. This area is enormous, so I will talk specifically about health, and just a part of it. To start with, let me say that health is a field in which women play by far the largest role—a fact that is not always, if ever, recognised and acknowledged.

I will start at the celebratory end by congratulating Dr Roopa Dhatt and her colleagues at Women in Global Health and its sister organisation, Women Leaders in Global Health. Women in Global Health aims for gender equality in global health leadership in order to achieve better global health. Leadership in health globally is largely male but, as Women in Global Health argues, many excellent and well-qualified women are simply not recognised. Women in Global Health works to increase their visibility and opportunities for inclusion in leadership at all levels everywhere. It advocates for organisations to adopt gender-equal leadership, draw leaders from the entire talent pool and address the inefficiencies caused by gender inequality that weaken global health. It is great to see Women in Global Health growing in membership and influence, and it is very important to note that gender balance in the way it describes it is fundamental to improving health globally.

Let me widen this out by talking about nursing. Nursing is not a gendered profession, but about 80% of nurses globally are women. Incidentally, although this is not my main point, nursing needs to attract more men. It is one of the few fields in which there will be enormous growth in future years, and we need to involve the whole population. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health recently reviewed nursing globally and found, across all countries, a systematic undervaluing of nurses—a devaluing, really—and an underutilisation in the sense of nurses being well trained but not being able to work to the top of their potential—“to the top of their licence”, as the Americans might put it.

In our survey, we read comments like, “We are invisible”, “We are taken for granted and kept down” and “We are seen as just nice women doing what doctors tell us”. They are not seen as truly trained professionals or allowed to work as such. Evidence suggests that this is happening partly because most nurses are women—how women are treated in particular countries seems to be reflected in the way nurses are treated there—and partly because they are not doctors and there is some territorialism about who does what. Whatever the cause, this is a most extraordinary waste of talent, passion and commitment—and, frankly, resources, if the largest part of our global workforce is unable to work to its full potential and contribute fully.

Moreover, as our report, Triple Impact—which came out of that study—shows, if you develop nursing, you do not just improve health and promote gender equality, you also promote the economy. For example, in African countries you involve more women in the cash economy. As my noble friend Lady Flather said, when women have money in their pockets, they are more likely to spend it effectively and for the benefit of a wider range of people. So there are three big wins from promoting and developing nursing, which is why my noble friend Lady Watkins and I set up Nursing Now, to improve health globally by raising the profile and status of nursing.

I have three questions on what the UK can do to advance gender equality globally. First, what are the Government doing to support the aims and work of women in global health? Secondly, what are the Government doing to raise the status and profile of nursing in the way that I have described—beyond their very welcome support for the campaign Nursing Now that Ministers have already pledged? Finally, perhaps I may raise a domestic issue. Noble Lords will know that the majority of carers in this country are women and that almost all of them are on zero-hours contracts. It would be interesting to know whether the Government recognise this as a problem, and, if so, what they will do about it.