Women in nursing ‘must engage with politics’, ICN congress hears

Liberian minister tells international nursing audience that gender inequality dominates health and female nurses must get political to influence decision-making.

Female nurses must be more politically engaged to influence decisions affecting their profession and healthcare and to tackle inequality, a gender minister told an international nursing conference.

Women are often ‘complacent’ about getting involved in politics, ICN congress heard. Picture: iStock

Republic of Liberia’s minister of gender, children and social protection, Julia Duncan-Cassell, addressed nurses at the International Council of Nurses congress in Barcelona, Spain.

She said empowerment is key, as gender inequality dominates health. While women make up 75% of the health workforce in many countries, their representation at the top of healthcare – ‘a professional and political field’ – is limited, Dr Duncan-Cassell said.

Decision making

This undermines the contribution they can make, she said, including their impact on the next generation of nurses through identifying challenges, acting as role models and highlighting strategies to become leaders.

She said: ‘All of you in this room are leaders. Do not allow decisions to be made for you, without you; as professionals you are also politicians.

‘Engage in the process and make sure the needs of nurses are put on the table and legislated.’

She said women are often complacent about getting involved in politics and can be nervous about ‘taking a seat at the table’, adding: ‘If you don't have a seat at the table, bring a chair.’

Nurses in the room broke into spontaneous applause.

‘At the back’

‘There are still differences between how men and women are perceived, with women being at the back and men the front,’ Dr Duncan-Cassell said.

‘I want to encourage you to participate politically in health leadership in government.’

Dr Duncan-Cassell added that only 20% of health ministers globally are women and said a lack of women at the top had significant implications for population health.

United States nursing faculty member Vivienne Friday said there needed to be more educational emphasis on preparing nurses to be advocates and leaders.

‘It is important in our preparation of nurses and this is an area we need to place more emphasis on. I think we tend to be a little subservient and think nurses need to be more forthright.’

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