How serious are global health leaders about gender equality?BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1462 (Published 06 April 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1462
All rapid responses
In her recent editorial, Kapilashrami powerfully highlights that a lack of gender equality in global health is not solely a woman's issue, but affects entire families and populations.1 She notes that putting more women in leadership and decision-making positions “benefits everyone.” Actions and accountability are necessary at every level2 - from supporting peers and colleagues to mandating institutional policies which support gender equality.
At the 2017 Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) in Washington, D.C., a panel of female global health leaders (AG, MB, IK, JM, YM) discussed the barriers to female leadership and put forward actionable advice on how to address them:
To women embarking on a global health career
Build a patchwork mentorship community of men and women and draw from their varied perspectives on career and life. Don’t limit yourself to your institution. Take advantage of existing networks like Weill Cornell’s female global health mentorship network (www.womenglobalhealth.com/mentorship-network), Women in Global Health (www.womeningh.org), and Women in Surgery Africa (www.womeninsurgeryafrica.org). Attend conferences such as Women Leaders in Global Health3 (www.wlghconference.org), Women in Global Health Research and CUGH conferences.
A career in global health is not always straightforward and brings unique challenges. Begin your career with eyes open. Evidence suggests most of you, regardless of country, will face difficulties balancing career and personal life, gender bias and sexual harassment.4 Learn how to report offenses at the outset, before problems arise. Do not tolerate injustice. Sexual harassment is an offense and reporting it requires courage. But you owe this to yourself, as well as to the women in your community.
To mid-career women and men in global health
Mentoring and sponsoring women is one of the most meaningful ways to retain women and promote their rise to leadership. Be visible, available, and willing to share insights about your career and your personal challenges in navigating different cultures, power structures, and home responsibilities. Advocate for promotion of other women to leadership positions. Research demonstrates that having women committee members impacts the way committee members interact, the issues discussed and the decisions they make.5 Consider self-nomination for such positions. Seek culturally-appropriate ways to assert yourself as the authority on your own work. Do not fear or doubt your ability to lead. Be willing to delegate in order to build capacity, and, if possible, utilize a network to balance the household responsibilities that fall disproportionately on women.6
Men play an important role in promoting gender equity by acknowledging the gender-specific barriers female mentees face. When a man is the assumed leader despite the presence of a more experienced woman on the team, men who vocally reaffirm her position and express their confidence in her leadership can advance gender equity as well. Active consideration of whether qualified women can be nominated for leadership positions and pointing out when women are underrepresented is also important. 7
To senior faculty/leaders in global health
We cannot overstate the influence senior leaders have in drawing attention to gender-specific barriers.8 Leaders, examine the institutional barriers contributing to decreased visibility of women and the perception that women are less engaged. Mandate that nominees for opportunities such as keynote speakers and leadership training consist of 50% women. Develop innovative training models that enable women to participate without sacrificing responsibilities at home. Weill Cornell has developed a Master’s program with intensive sessions to enable international women to receive training without having to leave their families for an entire semester. An alternative is training opportunities in LMICs such as the AfyaBora global health leadership training in Kenya (http://afyaboraconsortium.org).
To institutions in global health
Institutions must recognize that women, especially in LMICs, bear the majority of household responsibilities. Utilize effective strategies to alleviate this burden such as establishing funds for child/elder care during work-related travel, and ensuring paternity leave is available to balance the burden of family-related absences.
Institutions must also create change on a policy level. Require gender parity on boards, conferences, and committees. Work with partner institutions to develop and implement sexual discrimination and harassment policies, education on cultural norms and safety, and self-defense trainings to ensure the safety of women.
The barriers to female advancement are not specific to global health. Current movements like #MeToo, the Women’s March and #WLGH have inspired productive discussion around how to tackle these problems and reflect a new determination to change the status quo in every career track. We hope that these ongoing discussions will lead to impactful actions to reduce gender bias in global health as well. We know achieving gender parity will not be easy but as physicians and researchers in global health, we must apply our hard-earned patience and persistence to achieve equity.
1. Kapilashrami A. How serious are global health leaders about gender equality? BMJ. 2018;361:k1462.
2. Downs JA, Mathad JS, Reif LK, et al. The ripple effect: why promoting female leadership in global health matters. Public Health Action. 2016;6(4):210-211.
3. Talib Z, Burke KS, Barry M. Women leaders in global health. Lancet Glob Health. 2017;5(6):e565-e566.
4. Clancy KB, Nelson RG, Rutherford JN, Hinde K. Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): trainees report harassment and assault. PLoS One. 2014;9(7):e102172.
5. Mendelberg CFKaT. The Silent Sex: Gender, Delibertation and Institutions. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press; 2014.
6. Jolly S, Griffith KA, DeCastro R, Stewart A, Ubel P, Jagsi R. Gender differences in time spent on parenting and domestic responsibilities by high-achieving young physician-researchers. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(5):344-353.
7. Casadevall A. 2015. Achieving speaker gender equity at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting. mBio 6(4):e01146-15. doi:10.1128/mBio.01146-15.
8. Glass R. How can we encourage female leaders in global health? Glob Heal Matters. 2017:16(4). https://www.fic.nih.gov/News/GlobalHealthMatters/july-august-2017/Pages/.... Accessed 20 Feb 2018.
Competing interests: No competing interests
" Gender Inequality " is millennia-old , continues on and on and is universal. A regrettable fact.
Focusing the readership to this disgraceful quality is an act of courage that needs a bow.
Competing interests: No competing interests