The crime of gender inequality in global health

Laurie Garrett Foreign Policy, 2017; Read the original article online

A recent article in Foreign Policy argues that there is no way of overcoming the looming health crises without first fixing the problem of women's empowerment in global health. Written by Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, the article brings into focus the issues of power and inequity in public health professions. 

The majority of people working in health worldwide are female - by far. But the majority of their bosses and global leadership are men." 

Comparing statistics from across the world, Garrett exposes the ways in which women in the health workforce are treated unequally, despite being the majority. Decision making spaces are often occupied by men and as a result, the historical direction of the field has been to eradicate diseases using scientific tools rather than tackling high mortality rates associated with pregnancy.

Even in fields where they outnumber men nine to one, women are less likely to have their ideas for solving health problems, such as maternal deaths, taken seriously and fully funded either by grants or awards."

Achieving the SDGs by 2030 will require adding another 40 million health professionals to the global labour pool, a gap that is likely to widen as an increasing percentage of the global population advances to senior age. According to a WHO analysis in 2013, this gap was the primary stumbling block to implementation of universal health coverage.

Richer countries are compensating for inadequate numbers of personnel by poaching doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health workers from middle-income countries like Thailand, the Philippines, India, and Caribbean nations. Those countries, in turn, lure personnel from poorer places like South Africa, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, and Vietnam. And patients throughout the entire chain, from specialty hospitals in Manhattan down to unsupplied clinics in rural Indian villages, suffer."

Evidence has shown that maximising women's leadership, economic participation and empowerment positively affects public-good financing such as increased focus on public schools, clean water, hospitals and sanitation.

According to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, nearly all achievements in economic development for poor and middle-income countries hinge on improvements in gender equity and leadership."

Garrett's article calls for genuine systems of gender reciprocity and fairness to be developed in global health. By implementing leadership and fairness in professions that are overwhelmingly female it is hoped that we can later take on more ambitious targets such as "oval shaped offices and the boardrooms of the Fortune 500".

Read the full article here.

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