WASHINGTON DC/LONDON, Mar 16 (IPS) – Female health care workers make up more than two-thirds of the health workforce and account for 90% of frontline health care workers globally, but occupy less than a quarter of the positions leadership – a situation that is unfair and a significant risk to global health security.
Despite five years of one-off engagements, our new report The Status of Women and Leadership in Global Health shows few isolated gains, while overall progress in women’s representation in global health governance has remained largely unchanged.
The report, launched on March 16, assessed global data as well as deep dives into country case studies from India, Nigeria and Kenya. He revealed that women had lost a lot of ground in health leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Women in Global Health study calculated that 85% of 115 national COVID-19 task forces had a majority of men. Globally, at the World Health Organization Executive Board meeting in January 2022, only 6% of government delegations were led by women (compared to a peak of 32% in 2020).
It seems that during emergencies like the pandemic, outdated gender stereotypes resurface with men seen as “natural leaders”.
A key and disturbing finding of the report was that women of a socially marginalized race, class, caste, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or migrant status, face much greater barriers to accessing and maintaining formal leadership positions in healthcare.
Without women from diverse backgrounds in decision-making positions, health programs lack the insight and professional experience of the women health workers who largely insure the health systems in their countries.
Expanding the representation of diverse health leaders is not only a matter of fairness, it also contributes to better decision-making by bringing a wider range of knowledge, talent and perspectives.
Furthermore, the report shows that there is a “broken pipeline” between women working in national health systems and those working in global health. As long as men are in the majority among national health leaders and systemic bias against women persists, the global health leadership pipeline will continue to funnel more men into positions of power. global decision-making.
The problems that women face in national health systems are then replicated at the global level where women are excluded from political processes and marginalized from the highest appointments.
An in-depth analysis of case studies from India, Nigeria and Kenya confirms that women are kept out of leadership in health by cultural gender norms, discrimination and ineffective policies that do not correct historical inequalities.
The similarities in barriers faced by female health workers from vastly different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are marked, indicating widespread systemic bias across the global health workforce.
The consequences of excluding women from leadership represent a moral and justice problem, as well as a strategic loss for the health sector. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen how safe maternity and sexual and reproductive health services have been deprioritized and removed from essential services in some countries, with catastrophic consequences for women and girls.
We have seen female health workers unpaid or underpaidand we have seen unsafe conditions escalate when community health workers have been dispatched to enforce lockdowns, conduct contact tracing or provide services in unsafe conditions without any foresight to ensure safety.
The findings of our report show that systemic change goes beyond the numbers when it comes to gender leadership. What is needed is a transformative framework for action involving all genders, from the institutional level to the national and global level.
Recommendations for driving transformative approaches include:
- ? Do men need to “step down” and become visible role models by challenging stereotypes to make room for qualified women? Normalizing paternity leave to change gender norms and reduce women’s care burden? Governments take targeted action to accelerate the number of diverse women in health leadership positions through all-female quotas and shortlists, particularly for global health leadership positions which have never been occupied by a woman? Should institutions intend to create and sustain a pipeline for women to access leadership? Measurable actions such as mentoring, shadowing/shadowing and back-up opportunities need to be created and monitored to ensure women are visible for promotion opportunities? Zero tolerance of discrimination against pregnancy? Flexible work options supported for all parents and guardians
Investing in women is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a good business decision. When we get it right, we can unlock a “gender triple dividend in health” that includes more resilient health systems, improved economic well-being for families and communities, and progress towards equality. genders.
The lessons of the pandemic have taught us a lot about the value of health workers and even more about the value of health workers. They are mostly women. It is time for them to take their rightful roles of leadership.
Dr. Roopa Dhatt is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Women in Global Health, Washington, DC and Dr. Ebere Okereke is Snr Health Adviser Tony Blair Institute London & incoming CEO Africa Public Health Foundation, Nairobi
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