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Invisible Women - Liz Truss and lefty nonsense about gender

Invisible Women
Invisible Women - Liz Truss and lefty nonsense about gender
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #15 • View online

Well, GFPs, the last two days have been a bit of a sucker one-two punch.
First, a mainstream UK publication (the Independent) FINALLY covered an issue we’ve been banging on about for a while now round these parts: the problem of default male PPE not fitting female bodies, when those bodies make up 77% of NHS staff (the indy report cites 75%, but I’m not sure where they got that figure from as NHS Employers states that the figure is 77%). Anyway, irrespective of that stat, as you can see, I was quite pleased:
I guess that's the Indy & the BMA joining me over on the "morally indefensible" naughty step, eh Dr Moalem 🤪
I guess that's the Indy & the BMA joining me over on the "morally indefensible" naughty step, eh Dr Moalem 🤪
But my pleasure was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, when Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, was asked about the issue of PPE for the female-dominated NHS workforce, something I’ve been trying to get journalists to ask our politicians for bloody weeks, she had this to say:
Endless screaming.
Endless screaming.
I don’t need to tell you how incredibly frustrating it is to see politicians stoop to in-group signalling at a time like this. “I,” signals Truss, “am a sensible woman. I don’t have time for this lefty nonsense about gender.”
But this isn’t nonsense, lefty or otherwise. This isn’t a political theory. This is about the material reality of female bodies, how they are generally shaped differently to male bodies, and how Personal Protective Equipment has generally been designed to fit men.
This has got nothing to do with which political wing you belong to (as indeed, several of her colleagues, notably Nadine Dorries and Amber Rudd, could tell her. This is about protecting the people who are on the frontlines protecting us. These brave women and men are putting themselves at risk to save our lives. It’s as stark as that.
And they are not super-human. They are just ordinary people. They are scared. They are tired. But they are carrying on doing their jobs, because that is what they have to do. And they deserve better than politicians turning their safety into a culture war.
So with that in mind, GFPs, I’m afraid it’s time for another letter-writing campaign.
Click here to send an email to your MP. I am again including below a template text for you to send so it’s super-easy, but please feel free to write your own.
Dear [your MP’s name],
I am writing to you about the issue of Personal Protective Equipment and female healthcare workers. As you will be aware, the NHS is a female dominated workforce: 89% of nurses and 77% of NHS staff overall are female. 84% of carers are female. These frontline staff need to have access to PPE that fits them. But there are a growing number of alarming reports from these staff that not only is there a shortage of PPE overall, but the PPE that does exist doesn’t fit them properly, because it has generally been designed to fit an average male body.
This is not a new issue. In 2017, a TUC report on women and PPE revealed the following:
  • 71% of women wear PPE that has not been designed for female bodies
  • 57% of women found that their PPE hampered their ability to do carry out their work
  • The situation was worst in the emergency services where only 5% of women said their PPE never hampered their work
The report stated that these statistics were not surprising because “most PPE is based on the sizes and characteristics of male populations from certain countries in Europe and the United States. As a result, most women, and also many men, experience problems finding suitable and comfortable PPE because they do not conform to this standard male worker model. For instance, the use of a ‘standard’ US male face shape in the manufacture of RPE [respiratory protective equipment] means that it does not fit most women as well as a lot of men from black and minority ethnic groups”.
As you will know, the data so far suggests that the severity with which Covid-19 hits can be linked to the viral load to which the sufferer is exposed to when they are infected. This makes it absolutely crucial that our health-workers have access to PPE that fits them properly.
Please will you raise this issue with the Health Secretary and also with the Minister for Women and Equalities?
Thank you very much,
[your name]
GET SENDING. It really makes a difference – so many of you were kind enough to get back to me with the response you got from your MP about collecting sex-disaggregated data, and the vast majority of them said that they would raise it and keep on it. So that link again:
Gender data gap of the week
“Doctors and nurses are being put at risk of catching Covid-19 because hospitals are abandoning vital checks to ensure their personal protective equipment (PPE) fits properly,” writes Denis Campbell, The Guardian‘s health policy editor.
NHS trusts do not want to deplete their limited supplies of the disposable masks by using them up during what until now have been seen as routine and necessary checks to ensure the virus cannot get past the mask and into the wearer’s nose or mouth.
The fit-test is a rigorous process which ensures health workers wear the right size mask, which does not leak. The masks are sprayed with a chemical mist to see if staff can taste it.
However, trusts are instead telling staff to carry out what doctors fear is a crude and unreliable manual assessment, known as a “fit-check”, to see if masks have any gaps. This involves checking the seal by covering the filter, breathing in and seeing if the mask sucks in.
The suspension of crucial fit-tests for health workers going in to treat what can be a deadly disease, particularly at the higher viral loads they will be exposed to, is unacceptable for both male and female healthcare workers. However given what we know about female bodies and PPE, and the female dominated nature of the NHS workforce, this will inevitably affect women in particular: they are the ones who are most likely not to pass their fit test.
This is a data gap because a form is filled out for every fit test. No fit test, no form. However, there is already another issue with these forms: the two trusts I have so far managed to speak to do not collect sex data on their fit test forms. So it’s not necessarily going to be easy to access reliable data on the failure rate for female versus male staff. Nevertheless, I intend to try. Watch this space.
Default male of the week
Do you really need to ask…?
Enough said.
Enough said.
Listen again round-up
I did a Facebook Live with Penguin on Invisible Women and whatnot
I did a Facebook Live with Penguin on Invisible Women and whatnot
And I did an interview with the New Scientist on Covid-19 and data.
And I did an interview with the New Scientist on Covid-19 and data.
You can also listen to the New Scientist podcast here.
And I also did another Facebook Live with BBC Science Focus
And I also did another Facebook Live with BBC Science Focus
Spoilt for choice! If you feel like thanking me after all that you could be very lovely and drop me a message via about how the impact Invisible Women has had on you :)
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…….
Civic Duty of the Week!
Me too, Poppy. Me too.
Me too, Poppy. Me too.
That’s it! I’ve really loved reading all your responses, so please keep them coming! Other than that, until next time, GFPs… xoxoxo
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Caroline Criado Perez

Keeping up with the gender data gap (and whatever else takes my fancy). Like the Kardashians, but with more feminist rage. Plus, toilet queue of the week.

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