18 October 2016

Advancing gender equality in global health leadership – More than a checklist

How is the global health capital doing on advancing gender equality and what else can it do? To answer these questions, the Global Health Centre and Women in Global Health organised a half-day event focusing on women’s leadership in global health on 14 October 2016. It included a roundtable discussion, a public event, and a dinner. The aim was to accelerate progress building on established frameworks, in particular the Geneva Gender Champions (GGC) initiative launched in 2015.

The public event “A gender reality check in global health” analysed how some of these Champions are meeting their commitments and whether these commitments are in line with the realities of gender disparity in global health leadership. This reality check clearly showed that a simple checklist of pledges that were met is not enough, and a broader context needs to be taken into account.

Firstly, advancement of gender equality in global health leadership is not only about personal commitments but also needs to be institutionalised. Even though leading by example can build momentum, only the translation into institutional commitments will allow for continuity beyond changes in leadership. In addition to this, best practices can help identify effective strategies and actions. The promotion of gender equality in statutes and legislations is also a necessary step to mainstream gender into policies at all levels.

Secondly, gender equality is not only about numbers but is a human rights issue and an investment in sustainable development. It is, therefore, interlinked to all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will require transformative change – and transformative leaders – in order to be achieved. In this regard, it should not be forgotten that leadership has no gender, and the participation of both men and women will be crucial to advance women’s leadership and broader gender-related issues.

Thirdly, it is not only about Geneva; the realities of women around the world also need to be taken into account. Harmful practices such as child marriage and genital mutilation, and inequalities arising from limited access to water and clean fuels still exist. They have negative consequences on women’s health, education, and employment opportunities – and therefore also on their possibilities to thrive and achieve leadership positions.

Within this broader context, what can actors in Geneva do, and how will their initiatives link to the local level? First of all, International Geneva, with its wealth of actors, offers many fora that can impact gender. The challenge is to continuously mainstream gender and gender impact assessments into climate change, labour, migration, and development, among others.

Furthermore, member states of Geneva-based organisations remain important actors in pushing the gender agenda in multilateral negotiations. In this regard, initiatives such as the Geneva Gender Champions are complementary to developments at the national level, but can also stimulate a new vision and innovative solutions with implications for countries’ priorities and international engagement.

Finally, actors from the global health capital also have a role to play in the process leading to the election of the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure that their profile includes a strong stance on gender equality to accelerate progress in Geneva and beyond.

The Global Health Centre and Women in Global Health will continue their work in this area, in particular with regard to improving data on the governance and leadership of Geneva global health organisations, and promoting further dialogue in the context of the Executive Board of WHO and the WHA.

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