by Pamela Bongkiyung, Prof Sally Theobald, Julie Irving, Rachael Thomson & Eleanor MacPherson
“Only 31% of the world’s ministers of health are women, and among the chief executives of the 27 health-care companies in the 2017 global Fortune 500, only one is female.”
The Lancet, Nov. 2017
With this knowledge, we are ushered into this year’s International Women’s Day, whose theme is charging us to #PressforProgress on gender parity. In the COUNTDOWN programme, we are pushing for gender analysis to be a critical part of policy and practice to address Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), to ensure their equity and effectiveness whilst promoting social justice.
The Department for International Development (DFID) released its strategic vision on gender equality on 7th March 2018 titled ‘A Call to Action for Her Potential, Our Future’. DFID’s vision on gender equality emphasises a need for all to challenge and change unequal power relations, build inter-linked foundations that will have a transformational impact for girls and women, protect and empower girls and women in situations such as conflict, protracted crises and humanitarian emergencies among others. Most importantly, this strategy urges that we leave no girl or woman behind by integrating gender equality across board and build an evidence base that uses data reflective of all groups. This is critical for the NTD response and in COUNTDOWN we have a strong focus on research and action to promote inclusive NTD strategies and approaches.
The COUNTDOWN programme which is multidisciplinary in nature, has been working with women who are leaders in health research and implementation. They have made it their life’s mission to spearhead access to leadership positions, representation of women in health systems research and recognition for women’s contribution to the health system; where women constitute the majority of the health workforce, but are sadly under-represented in leadership positions.
But what prevents the rise of women is bottlenecks in institutions and rules that hinder career advancement, sometimes due to gender bias and discrimination in the workplace and preconceived notions about difficulties of balancing family responsibilities with work.
Regardless of the obstacles they encounter, women still strive for progress as exemplified by our Social Science lead in Ghana, Prof Margaret Gyapong. She decided a year ago to take up the mantle of leadership at a young university – University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho, Ghana as Director for the Centre for Health Policy & Implementation Research. Prof Gyapong will give her inaugural lecture titled “From the stomach to the skies: Lay perceptions of disease causation and implications for disease control” on 15th March 2018.
Globally, there has been some progress in promoting gender equity at leadership representation tables and in gender pay gaps. Early this year, we saw Iceland take the lead in enforcing gender equal pay. The UK is getting tough on the issue by asking companies to provide evidence of efforts being made to ensure this gap is bridged. The Bank of England in its Gender Pay Gap Report acknowledges more needs to be done. We need to ensure initiatives promoting gender equity in human resource for health extend to all contexts and all levels of the health systems including amongst community-based drug distributors who play a critical interface role linking NTDs programmes and communities. We need to promote gender transformative approaches in health systems strengthening across the board, and we welcome DFID’s publication highlighted above.
We encourage you to read a paper recently published in the British Medical Journal of Global Health by our colleagues and great women leaders from wonderful organisations on “20years of Gender Mainstreaming in Health: Lessons and reflections for the neglected tropical diseases’ community”.
Happy International Women’s Day and aluta continua!