Women on the frontline: exploring the gendered experience for Pacific healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication date: Jan 01, 2024

Women comprise 90% of patient-facing global healthcare workers (HCWs), yet remain underpaid, undervalued, and under-represented in leadership and decision-making positions, particularly across the Pacific region. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these health workplace inequalities. We sought to understand Pacific women HCWs experience from the COVID-19 frontline to contribute to policies aimed at addressing gendered gaps in regional health systems. Our interpretative phenomenological study used critical feminist and social theory, and a gendered health systems analytical framework. Data were collected using online focus groups and in-depth interviews with 36 Pacific regional participants between March 2020 and July 2021. Gender-specific content and women’s voices were privileged for inductive analysis by Pacific and Australian women researchers with COVID-19 frontline lived experience. Pacific women HCWs have authority and responsibility resulting from their familial, biological, and cultural status, but are often subordinate to men. They were emancipatory leaders during COVID-19, and as HCWs demonstrated compassion, situational awareness, and concern for staff welfare. Pacific women HCWs also faced ethical challenges to prioritise family or work responsibilities, safely negotiate childbearing, and maintain economic security. Despite enhanced gendered power differentials during COVID-19, Pacific women HCWs used their symbolic capital to positively influence health system performance. Gender-transformative policies are urgently required to address disproportionate clinical and community care burdens and to protect and support the Pacific female health workforce. Epidemic Ethics/World Health Organization (WHO), Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office/Wellcome Grant 214711/Z/18/Z. Co-funding: Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Foundation, International Development Fund Grant.

Concepts Keywords
Australian COVID-19
Feminist Critical feminist methodology
Healthcare Emergency care
July Emergency medicine
Pandemic Gender
Gender analysis
Health systems
Pacific Islands
Pacific Region
Social theory
Women healthcare workers


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
drug DRUGBANK Etoperidone
disease VO organization
disease MESH Emergency

Original Article

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