Why the nursing shortage hits women in particular

Why the nursing shortage hits women in particular

In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale visited the Kaiserswerther Diakonie in Germany. There she learned how to dress wounds, make medicines and assist in operations. The young Briton returned to Great Britain and procured what had previously been considered disreputable Care social recognition. Nightingale pursued a scientific approach to nursing and took the view that there should be independent nursing knowledge alongside medical knowledge. This is how she differentiated nursing from medicine.

At that time, Germany was still a pioneer when it came to care. Today there is a nursing shortage here, specialists have to be recruited from other countries, and if nothing improves, Germany is threatened with a nursing collapse. 4.1 million people were in need of care in Germany in 2019, but only 1.7 million people were employed in care. According to the Federal Statistical Office, four out of five people in need of care are cared for at home, most of them by relatives alone. With increasing age, the need for care and the need for personnel increases, but the number of employees does not.

Care is often taken for granted

This hits women particularly hard, who have always cared for the elderly and sick more often. For the medical historian and former specialist nurse Monja Schünemann, this is due to the historical role of women: “Care should not be lost as an inherent characteristic of the loving woman who is devoted to her husband and takes care of the sick. In essence, nothing has changed to this day.” According to the Federal Statistical Office, 85 percent of the nursing and care staff in homes and outpatient services in 2019 were women. In private households, too, it is usually the woman who takes care of relatives in need of care. According to Schünemann, who has published a book about the situation (“Der Pflege-Tsunami”), this is mainly due to the gender pay gap: women still earn less than men. Added to this is the gender care gap: it is predominantly women who take care of children, the elderly and the household.

Specialists from abroad: nurses from Brazil during German lessons in Neu-Isenburg

Specialists from abroad: nurses from Brazil during German lessons in Neu-Isenburg

Image: Frank Röth

This unpaid work is often taken for granted by society. The traditional understanding of roles continued in nursing, says Schünemann. “The man really can’t ‘Care’ because he wasn’t taught how to do it when he was a child. This is quite often still the case in today’s adult couples, and they pass it on to their children accordingly. You expect the woman to take care of things.” Many men are therefore often overwhelmed when they are alone with the household. Running a household, cooking, shopping – for her, that is part of care.

“It’s backwards”

Many people do not understand what care actually is. In Germany, care is primarily associated with washing and “holding hands”. Nursing also includes the independent care of patients, as defined by the International Council of Nurses. “Nevertheless, people simply say that only women can do that because they are suitable for it,” says Schünemann. “No woman was born to wash, to look after and to care for the sick. That’s backwards! When women are forced to take care of their families, they are no longer free to make their own decisions.”

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