Women make up 90% of frontline health care workers globally — and those in unpaid roles are grossly underpaid yet continue to hold health systems together in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report released on Thursday.

The report, “Subsidizing Global Health,” was published by the nonprofit organization Women in Global Health and compiled from existing research and interviews with women health workers in Ethiopia, India, Malawi, Mexico, and Zambia. The report exposed a stark lack of data about women working unpaid in health systems.

There is a direct correlation between women’s lack of equal pay within the industry, extreme stress on health systems, and health care workers leaving the field, Dr. Magda Robalo, the managing director at Women in Global Health, said in a press release issued to Global Citizen.

Women in Global Health recommends collecting accurate data on unpaid and underpaid health workers and creating decent jobs for all women in the formal health workforce, in order to increase gender equality and promote women’s economic empowerment by closing the projected 18 million global health worker gap that is threatening global health security.

Here are six more key takeaways on the state of women’s unpaid work in health care from the report.

  1. An estimated 6 million women worldwide are subsidizing health systems with their unpaid or grossly underpaid labor. 
  2. Women in unpaid roles face higher safety risks inside and outside the workplace.
  3. Women’s unpaid work helps keep communities safe.
  4. Women living in low-income countries are more likely to take on unpaid work.
  5. Unpaid work undermines women’s economic rights and potential. 
  6. Health systems are weakened by depending on women’s unpaid work. 

Read the full article about women's unpaid work by Leah Rodriguez at Global Citizen.