“Grab it with open hands”: Initiative uplifting women in health

Women are likely to die in greater numbers than men in the Covid-19 pandemic because they dominate health and education positions
58% of those infected by Covid-19 in South Africa are women.

By Hannah Zhihan Jiang

Molly Grieves, 47, has struggled to find work for years, but a month ago she was hired as an intern cleaner at the Helen Joseph Hospital through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The EPWP is a government programme giving temporary work opportunities to the unemployed. 

“When it comes to employment, women have always been degraded as not efficient enough, not strong enough to do certain jobs,” says Grieves. 

A single mother of four children, Grieves hopes this temporary position will lead to permanent work. Grieves enjoys her job, but she knows she has the potential to do much more if given opportunities. 

“We don’t just do the cleaning. Sometimes patients come and ask for your help and assistance. If they can open nursing courses, paid for by the government, maybe we can become nurses. Who knows. Maybe we will be the future doctors here in the hospital.”

Bridge the gap, empower women in health

The Women in Health Initiative, launched on 19 May, hopes to empower and uplift females in the healthcare sector, including cleaners like Grieves. It’s a collaboration between the Gauteng Department of Health and Bold Women Network, a women-led grassroots network. The women leaders aim to create a platform where women provide opportunities for other women in the healthcare sector and build alliances in response to the challenges of being women in health. 

Despite the healthcare sector being highly feminised, women are mostly seen in positions of nurses or community healthcare workers. While women constitute 51.2% of the general population, women make up 91% of the nurses in South Africa, according to Oxfam South Africa, a social justice organisation working at the intersection of poverty and inequality.

“In health in general, worldwide, who are the most employees in the health sector? It’s women. It’s only right that we empower those women. Because remember, right now, men are sitting on boards. They’re signing checks. But we are saying that it should be a parallel walk so that everyone gets to be part of that conversation,” says Lerato Kadiaka, founder and CEO of African Ambition Consulting, the agency behind Bold Women Network. 

Kadiaka says she plans to host quarterly review and networking events assessing the achievement of the past quarter and set goals for the upcoming quarter. It would also be an opportunity to expand the network and foster more partnerships among women in health.

A platform extending care to all women in health

An online platform marketplace is also part of the initiative. In this marketplace, aspiring women entrepreneurs can promote their wellness-related services and products

The Women in Health initiative is not only for doctors and nurses, the two most recognised healthcare professions. “It is an initiative of all women in the health sector. That woman who is a security guard in the Department of Health is a woman in health. That woman who is in the kitchen cooking for the patients is a woman in health,” says Nomsa Mmope, acting chief operations officer of the Gauteng Department of Health. 

The launch event took place in Helen Joseph Hospital, a public hospital based in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Helen Joseph was an anti-apartheid activist and one of the main organisers of the 1956 Women’s March against Apartheid. Joseph served as a social worker after the Second World War, an experience that exposed her to the reality of South Africa. 

“This hospital is named after the remarkable Helen Joseph that serves as a perfect backdrop for this momentous occasion. Helen Joseph was a beacon of hope, an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to fighting for justice, fighting for equality and human rights,” says Gauteng MEC for Health and Wellness Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko. 

“So I hope they really intend on doing these things, especially for us women. Because we are the ones that are prepared to go all the way for whatever they are offering us. We’ll grab it with open hands,” says Grieves. 

Unexplored potential

 The initiative has an online platform marketplace where aspiring women entrepreneurs can promote their wellness-related services and products. The launch event engaged women entrepreneurs from newcomers to established businesswomen in the health and wellness sector.

Tshepiso Mahabo, 34, founded Tholana Teas in 2017 after her daughter, Tholana, was born in 2016. She makes tea-infused products such as body salts and body scrubs. 

Mahabo says it’s not been easy to secure funds for her company as a woman. “I know like the government and corporates will say that there is funding for women and all of that, but then your turn it’s not really that easy. You always have to know somebody,” she says.

Women in Health would provide resources, guidance and mentorship women need to expand their businesses in the healthcare sector, says Mahabo. “It opened many doors for me. I will definitely grow.”

Kagiso Mavuka, 34, is a finance director at Peta Healthcare Consultants, a consulting agency providing pharmaceutical compliance and regulatory services. The company was founded by Mavuka’s mother Dr Dorcas Peta. They help compile dossiers for pharmaceutical companies to submit to the Medicines Control Council. 

Mavuka says over the years, she hasn’t seen many platforms that create space for women in the healthcare sector to navigate the technical know-how. The initiative is also meaningful in “handing out awards for women who have performed exceptionally within the health sector” and who previously did not get recognition, says Mavuka.

“The reason why we are here today is to number one, build the networks, but also get to know our fellow women in health, and be part of what I believe is such a great initiative, because this is the space that we need,” says Mavuka. – Health-e News


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