At the ‘Getting the balance right’ webinar last month, global health experts called for action not just analysis to advance gender equality across the field. The panel convened by Asha George, HSG Chair and Professor at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, was chaired by Pascale Allotey, Director, United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), Malaysia.
Health Systems Global (HSG) hosted the webinar asking ‘How do we advance gender equality across global health?’. The chair and panellists explored the power dynamics in global health, within global agencies, journals or local health departments, that hold women and other groups back from reaching their full potential – and we asked what can be done to address these.
The panel included:
- Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, Switzerland
- Shaheem DeVries, Medical Director, Western Cape Government Health Emergency Medical Services, South Africa
- Jocalyn Clark, Public Health Scientist and Executive Editor, The Lancet, United Kingdom.
Dr Allotey opened the conversation by highlighting the need to champion change, diversity and race issues. She continued to emphasise the importance of sharing experiences – how they shape our lives – our ways of knowing and ways of being.
Dr Swaminathan led with personal reflections on her own childhood and career. Growing up with two sisters, she emphasised that they were taught by her parents to never feel different to boys. She also made the case that many of her mentors in her career have been men and that it is not only women that can be gender champions, it is important for men to be champions as well. Fundamentally, she noted that women must be in decision making roles to represent women as service users.
Also highlighting her strong feminist upbringing, which enabled her to develop her career, Dr Clark emphasized that the unequal experiences of women have been described a lot in the past. She called for deeper solutions and a need to look to at insights that draw from a much wider disciplinary base and change the agenda
Reflecting on her experience as a journal editor she indicated that journals are starting to raise gender issues and provide platforms to those that may not have access to journals.
Dr DeVries explained that he is deeply committed to transformation. He explained that he did not think of gender until he entered the workplace and argued that gender inequality is invisible and ubiquitous. He raised the question of socialisation and how we relate to each other.
A call from the panellists
The panellists argued that advancing gender equality in global health is more than a numbers game. As part of their joint blog post they explained: “now more than ever our organisations need to be more open and learn from the breadth of front-line experiences that enrich and transform what we consider as global health and how it functions from a gender and intersectionality perspective”.
Lavanya Vijayasingham, Post-doctoral Fellow at United Nations University at the International Institute for Global Health provided an overview of the webinar highlighting the need to work to be responsive towards deeply ingrained forces, stimulate wider outreach and buy-in to ‘unbias’ the culture and achieve long-term solutions at individual, organizational and structural levels. She highlighted:
“A word of caution was raised by Dr Clark – to address the individual level alone is problematic. When the onus to change and source of the issue is placed on women, they will fail to address the larger systemic and organizational factors that are at the root of the broad issue. Gender inequality, imbalance and unequal treatment in the professional progress and leadership in global health emerges from widespread and crosscutting gender bias.”
Moving forward #TheRightBalance campaign
Moving forward HSG will continue to convene dialogue on addressing gender power relations in and beyond Health Policy and Systems Research. This will focus on looking at tangible steps for change while prioritizing and placing the views and shared priorities of the members at the core as highlighted by the November 2019 HSG member survey:
- Institutional leadership and decision-making need to be gendered balanced and sensitive.
- Addressing organizational culture and work/life balance (e.g. flexible working) to help create an enabling environment both women and men to have fulfilling careers.
To stay connected with the campaign all the resources are on the campaign website.