Prioritising women in global health workforce will close disparity gaps -Experts

Lara Adejoro

Medical experts have called on world leaders to prioritise women in global health workforce appointments because women face more inequities than men.

Speaking with our correspondent, Dr. Shubha Nagesh of the Latika Roy Foundation, India, said there is a need to commit to deliberately focus on gender parity, encourage women’s participation in leadership and remove barriers that disable women from leadership course.

According to the World Health Organisation, women account for 70 percent of the global health and social care workforce but 70 percent of senior roles in health are held by men.

“It is estimated that women provide essential health services for around five billion people worldwide. The financial value of women’s input into health systems is estimated to be over $3trn annually. Yet, women’s contributions to health and the health labour market remain markedly undervalued.

“Women in health tend to be clustered into lower status, low paid, and often unpaid roles. Sustainable development needs to better value women’s contributions to the population’s physical, social and mental wellbeing,” WHO noted.

The world health body said gender equity is key to building resilient health systems and gender transformative health and social care policies are key to achieving gender equality globally

Dr. Shubha said “Women in global health have emerged as a force in the last few years, the training for global health is concentrated in the global north and so many of us have studied global health outside our countries and returned home to build on the knowledge and apply the skills to our area of work.

“In the last three to four years, the pace has picked up, but we need to speed the momentum particularly in the global south and it’s for us women to push hard to find a place at the table in leadership positions

“Women are excellent agents of change, powerful and mature as they lead and make decisions. The pandemic has shown us just that.”

According to her, the benefit of diversity and gender parity in decision making is vital and has to be promoted.

She said when women are involved in decision-making, the decisions are more likely to be impactful, inclusive, and representative.

“Women have to pull up other women to leadership positions and make space on the ladder as they move up. They have to shatter ceilings that become the floor for those after them,” she said.

In an article published on Inter Press Service, which she co-authored with Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, they said there is a need to reverse this inequity, foster international partnerships and amplify voices of development practitioners from the global south.

“However, we also have found that global fellowships such as the Atlantic Fellowship, of which we are both Senior Fellows, are platforms to reverse this inequity, foster international partnerships, and amplify voices of development practitioners from the global south,” they said.

According to them, talent is universal, but opportunities are not.

“Opportunities for development experts from the global south are limited, especially those that demand leadership positions. Fellowships help create platforms for development experts from different countries to interact, get to know each other, and learn about the capacities that everyone brings to the table.

“For instance, the 2019 Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity at George Washington University comprises of 18 Fellows from 7 countries – Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, US, Philippines, India, and Iraq. Over a period of one year, the Fellows exchanged ideas and supported each in pushing for health equity in their different countries,” they said.

They added that while women form the bulk of the health workforce, key decision-makers in the health sector are usually men.

“The recent appointment of Winnie Byanyima as the Executive Director of UNAIDS, after serving a successful 6-year tenure as the Executive Director of Oxfam, should be replicated across more global health agencies,” they noted.

Speaking further, Dr. Shubha said as someone who comes from a small non-profit in one of India’s smallest hill states, “I struggle to make my work visible and my cause more well known. I have to navigate so many intersections- the global south.

“But we each just do our part to establish, engage and encourage policies and practices that promote women’s leadership in global health and will enable investments in programmes that want women and recognise them as powerful voices.

“Women’s participation is necessary at all levels, from local committees to global communities,” she said.

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