Women’s health has long been a central focus in the field of public health. It is well-known that many health disparities exist between men and women all over the world due to unequal access to basic health care and education. While certainly not specific to resource-poor settings, women tend to experience more discrimination and mistreatment in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where there are also higher rates of preventable deaths and disease. Because of societal structures and social pressures, women can have unequal power in sexual relationships, economic decision-making, and navigating reproductive and child health services1. One of the most effective ways we can reduce this inequity is by promoting, supporting and fostering the next generation of women leaders in low- and middle-income countries.
Equity in leadership is desired in all fields, but it is especially important in the field of health and medicine where saving lives and reducing global health burdens is a core and urgent task. Women leaders are more likely to implement policies that target women and children, and are more likely to support antenatal care, health facilities and immunizations2. When it is quite literally a matter of life and death, I believe that it is critical to address the gender gap in health leadership, especially when there is strength in working collaboratively and added value in community-building and diversity.
Lack of easily accessible female role models and difficulties balancing career and personal life contribute to the inequity in global health leadership3. Women are put under enormous pressure to maintain a balance between family life and professional life, a burden that is even heavier for women in LMICs where they are often expected to prioritize family over education. Women in resource-poor settings also face the added challenges of abiding by social-cultural norms often set my men, facing daily hurdles in mobility, and unfriendly work environments.
In order to tackle some of the most pressing health issues, we need to encourage and support women’s leadership in health, especially in the most vulnerable parts of the world. It is crucial to do this work in a meaningful way by incorporating the views and lived experiences of those in the ‘global south’ into our policies and decision-making process, and by considering local priorities in ensuring equal access to education and resources. Gender equality is not just an issue for women but an issue for everyone and if we don’t strive to achieve it, we will continue to struggle with the burden of death, disease and disability worldwide.
Dr. Adnan A. Hyder, is one of the keynote speakers at the 7th International Womens Leaders Summit presented by New World Concepts in Karachi, Pakistan. He is professor and associate chair, Department of International Health; director of the Health Systems Program; and director of the International Injury Research Unit at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in USA. He has 20 years of global health experience in low- and middle-income countries. With this background, Dr. Hyder leads a team of experts to conduct groundbreaking research on health systems strengthening and capacity building.
1 Deborah Derrick. Empowering women and girls: the impact of gender equality in global health. The Lancet Global Health Blog, 2014 Aug 8
2 Jennifer A. Downs, Lindsey K. Reif, Adolfine Hokororo, Daniel W. Fitzgerald. Increasing Women in Leadership in Global Health. US National Library of Medicine, 2015 Aug 1
3 Kelli Rogers. Why do women hold less than 25 percent of global health leadership roles? Devex, 2015 Feb 3