According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), each year more than 2.2 million men and women die from work-related injuries and diseases and 160 million new cases of work-related disease arise (scarce data from developing countries).
According to UN Women, the proportion of women in the paid labor force has increased dramatically. On average, women make up about 42﹪ of the estimated global paid working population, making them significant contributors to national economies. That proportion was taken way back in 2004 therefore it was expected to be beyond by 2021.
Women health and safety in different works they do should be considered and understood. Also how their gender affects their health related to the work they do, should be understood. Research indicates that more women are working in informal sectors than their male counterparts around the world with the largest proportion in low and middle-income countries for example street vending and domestic working.
Even in formal sectors, women are more likely to occupy lower ranks where they have less influence on their health and safety at workplaces. In domestic works, women are exposed to water-related diseases like schistosomiasis, malaria, and worms. During cooking, they are exposed to toxic gases and particles from indoor air pollution which caused respiratory diseases and cancer for example carbon dioxide gas.
It should be understood that exposures and vulnerabilities of women and men doing the same type of work differ significantly. This is because of differences in the structure and body physiology of women and men for example, these include the following differences:
The height: On average, women are shorter, lighter, and smaller than men and this may worsen their exposure and vulnerability to a given hazard at workplace. This means that the same physical load exerts greater strain on women than men.
Reproduction: Women’s and men’s reproductive systems differ. Women menstruate, become pregnant and nurse children, and these processes may be affected by workplace exposures; for instance, prolonged standing can affect birth weight and many chemicals can produce abnormalities.
Body physiological and metabolism: though less research is available to support sex differential effects on the metabolism of toxins, it has been hypothesized that the average woman is at greater risk of harm from fat-soluble chemicals because of a higher proportion of fat tissue, thinner skin, and slower metabolism
Many women joining in both informal and formal sectors of work are facing emotional and psychological problems and others have developed serious mental illnesses. A survey among nurses in a hospital in Turkey revealed that 75﹪ of the nurses reported having been sexually harassed: 44﹪ by male physicians, 34﹪ by patients, and 14﹪ by relatives of patients. Above and many other occupational and safety problems not indicated here are faced by many women in work globally and such problems are disproportionately distributed with women in low and middle-income countries suffering more.
So, a sustainable women empowerment program should consider, among other measures, an intervention that tackles occupational health and safety of women in all sectors of work.
AUTHOR: IVAN ONGEBO, Bsc. Environmental Health Scientist at Makerere University School of Public Health, Kampala.