Health organizations make some progress on gender

Photo by: iStock / Olivier Le Moal

MANILA — The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition is currently reviewing its recruitment process to ensure equal opportunities for women candidates vying for senior positions in the organization.

The nonprofit is also “actively searching” for women leaders to join its board of directors and to improve its membership’s gender balance. GAIN’s board is currently composed of eight men and four women.

EngenderHealth is developing an internal organizational policy on gender equity, diversity, and inclusion that’s expected to be completed by June 2019. The organization also plans to develop a gender, youth, and social inclusion strategy to be integrated across its programs.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will be evaluating whether its current human resource policies and strategies “adversely impact a certain gender.”

The Global Health 50/50 report

Read more about the report that examined the gender structure and policies of 140 global health organizations and showed that men dominate leadership positions.

These are among the global health organizations that have made new commitments and taken steps to become more gender responsive in their organizations’ gender structure and policies, according to Celebrating Change, a report released on Wednesday by the same gender health champions behind the Global Health 50/50 report.

Kent Buse and Sarah Hawkes, co-founders of Global Health 50/50, told Devex that the latest initiatives taken by several of the 140 global health organizations the report analyzed in March suggest some sort of “sea change” is taking place.

“Gender is now very much in the global health psyche — a welcome reflection of the #MeToo zeitgeist and a lot of positive steps that we could not imagine just a few years ago are being taken,” they told Devex in a joint email.

A few organizations that were already at the forefront have made additional gender commitments, such as the United Nations Children's Fund, which has committed to annually monitor and report on progress in bringing gender parity in senior management. The U.N. agency also committed to report sex-disaggregated data in its programs.

Some laggards from Global Health 50/50’s initial assessment have stepped up too. Health Action International updated its gender policy in June to affirm and reflect its commitments to gender equality in its workplace and programs. The update includes additional policies on employee entitlements, anti-sexual harassment, and diversity.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative has established a gender equality working group to fully review its current policies and programs, including the gender imbalance in its board and executive leadership. Seven men and four women currently sit on DNDi’s board, and six men and two women in executive leadership.

DNDi has also issued guidelines on the prevention of sexual misconduct, and all offices are expected to receive training addressing sexual harassment.

“The leadership [of both organizations] have both been in touch with us recently to inform [us] that on the basis of our report that they have embarked upon a process leading them to totally revamp their policies on gender,” said Buse, who is also the senior advisor and chief of strategic policy directions at UNAIDS.

“The lack of gender-parity in global health leadership is something that is visible and tangible — and is widely understood to be representative of a wider problem of gender inequality in career progression.”

— Sarah Hawkes, co-founder, Global Health 50/50

Small steps to better gender policies

A number of the initiatives launched by the organizations are more focused on promoting and advancing gender equality in the workplace, particularly in leadership positions, which the co-founders welcomed. But only a few tackled gender in the context of their work.

“The lack of gender-parity in global health leadership is something that is visible and tangible — and is widely understood to be representative of a wider problem of gender inequality in career progression [and] it is a fact that is hard to hide and so it is easy to name and shame,” said Hawkes, professor of global public health at University College London. She said there is now heightened advocacy from different organizations and sectors in advancing gender equality and women leadership in global health.

In contrast, she said there are still many complexities inherent in delivering gender sensitive or gender transformative programming.

“Conceptually it is difficult for many people to grasp, not least because gender as a social construct is widely misunderstood and often conflated with ‘women’ or even with ‘sexual orientation,’ and there is increasing political contestation of the very question of gender itself,” she said.

In addition, there is still a limited recognition of gender as a social determinant of health and well-being.

“There are challenges on many fronts, not least how to ensure that global health policies and programmes address the health needs of everyone in society,” Buse said.

The co-founders said seemingly small steps such as sex-disaggregation of data or a simple gender analysis can make a difference. Some organizations still have so much work to do and taking even small initiatives can be quite a challenge.

But they cautioned the report likely only captures a snapshot of the changes happening in the sector. While it identifies only 25 organizations that have responded to their #GH5050Challenge of making public their commitments to better gender practices, they are in correspondence with many other organizations that are in the process of updating or improving their gender policies.

The co-founders plan to produce a more comprehensive picture of overall progress in the 2019 report, which will include about 60 more organizations. The 2019 report will also assess new areas, such as parental leave plans, gender pay gap, and sexual harassment policies.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.