March 8, 2023
International Women’s Day 2023
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, let us be inspired by the women in all fields – and especially, in our case, the field of nursing – throughout the ages and across the globe, who have changed our world for the better. International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to honor women’s achievements and recognize their contributions to society. This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge,” which emphasizes the importance of challenging gender biases and inequality.
The founding of nursing is often attributed to Florence Nightingale. While she was a trailblazer and her work was instrumental in establishing nursing as a respected profession for women, it is important not to forget the contributions of nurses from cultures beyond the western hemisphere and across the ages that have led to the nursing science we know now and continue to this day.
In the healthcare industry, women have made significant strides across the globe, particularly in the field of nursing, at times against hard conditions and daunting odds.
I have spent time with nurse leaders, educators, and students in many countries and seen how they exemplify the spirit of nursing innovation and commitment to care, while surmounting economic and cultural barriers to their participation as full partners in health care. And there remain many places globally where would-be and practicing nurses lack access to opportunities for the valuable education and participation more widely available in the United States.
Nursing is a rare example of a women-dominant professional field. It clearly demonstrates the importance of equitable access to healthcare education and equity of opportunity.
Around the world, women have made substantial contributions to healthcare in their capacity as nurses.
In India, Lini Puthussery contracted the deadly Nipah virus while caring for infected patients in the 2018 outbreak. Despite knowing the risks, she worked until she was too sick to continue. Tragically, she succumbed to the disease. Her dedication to patient care and willingness to put herself in harm’s way are a testament to the bravery of women nurses.
In Japan, Setsuko Thurlow survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and dedicated her life to advocating for nuclear disarmament. Her work earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
In Australia, Elizabeth Kenny was a nurse who developed a groundbreaking treatment for polio patients. Her work revolutionized the care of polio patients and helped save countless lives.
Last month, we honored the heroism of the nurses who responded to the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. Nurses like Devlet Nizam and Gazel Caliskan who stayed in the the neonatal critical care unit amidst a deadly earthquake.
In the United States, nurses have been at the forefront of advocacy for reproductive justice, abortion rights, women’s health, and addressing our alarmingly poor outcomes for infant and maternal mortality.
In Iran, women and allies continue to this day to march for basic human rights and bodily autonomy in the #womenlifefreedom movement. Each week, we hear of new threats to those who continue this important movement, most recently the horrific chemical attacks directly harm the health and well-being of girls in Iran’s schools. And I would be remiss if I did not also state that in countless developing countries, women nurses with varying access to formal training are leaders in their communities, playing a crucial role in improving healthcare and patient outcomes. In many places, especially rural, remote, and underserved areas, nurses are the primary healthcare providers. Their work is often challenging and socially complex, as they must navigate cultural, political, and resource constraints to provide the best possible care to their patients.
In 2020, the World Health Organization honored over 100 nurses and midwives from around the world, showcasing their valuable work in their communities and contributions to healthcare and nursing as a whole.
These are just a few examples.
Yet, despite the significant role that women play in nursing, gender inequality still exists within the industry and the profession.
Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles and often earn less than their male counterparts. In many parts of the world, women and girls still do not have access to formal training and basic education. In our own nation, women are often absent at the decision-making table, or not seen as innovators or change agents. Yet women nurses have consistently demonstrated their dedication to patient care, deep knowledge of systems, and commitment to improving healthcare outcomes. Nurses lead health innovation globally.
As we celebrate a month of global recognition, let’s acknowledge the many contributions made by nurses around the world, and the urgent need for their access to educational equity, because without this, there can be no healthcare equity and no way to achieve the healthcare benchmarks set forth by the United Nations and other organizations.
With advocacy, there is opportunity to shift the narrative of nursing and women’s contributions to the world.
So at UW School of Nursing, in keeping with the theme of International Women’s Day, the nurses and nursing students of our community choose to challenge.
We recognize the contributions of women in nursing and encourage continued progress toward gender equality in healthcare and beyond.
We honor the achievements of women nurses around the world.
We challenge limiting gender biases and practices that devalue the essential work of women or belittle their contributions to innovation and nursing science.
We counter the ideologies of the powerful who would see women and girls silenced, suffering, and separate from education and society.
We celebrate and elevate the achievements of all women and advocate for further equality in the sciences, education, and healthcare. And we work toward a more equitable future for all.