Citing lack of representation in Coronavirus response, NGOs crowdsource list of women health security experts
WASHINGTON, DC - February 24, 2020 - Women in Global Health (WGH), an international NGO working towards gender equity in the field of global health, has crowdsourced a list of over 100 female healthsecurity experts. The list, which WGH has dubbed "Operation 50/50", is intended to address the glaring lack of women represented in the global response to the current Novel Coronavirus (nCoV2019) outbreak.
During outbreaks, women can face greater risks because they make up the majority of frontline health workers, are often the primary family caregivers of the sick, and have greater socioeconomic vulnerability in general. Yet, when it comes to health security policy making, few women are at the table. In January 2020, just five women were invited to join the WHO Emergency Committee on nCoV2019, making up less than a quarter of the 21-member group. And a recent presidential tweet showed the newly-convened U.S. Coronavirus Task Force is comprised entirely of men.
For Dr. Roopa Dhatt, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Women in Global Health, the last straw was the ratio of women invited to comment on the coronavirus outbreak – for every three men quoted in news stories on the outbreak, only one woman's views were sought. "I knew we had to do something; there are qualified, credible women doing excellent work in global health security. Women make up 75% of the healthcare workforce but occupy less than a quarter of leadership, and it's critical that their expertise is included in decisions around this and other outbreaks for an effective global response."
This is how Operation 50/50 was born – WGH partnered with Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and immediately began crowdsourcing a list of female experts with meaningful global health security experience through their networks and a public nomination form. The list is currently being compiled and will become available on the WGH website, and the group hopes it will be used by organizations seeking leadership for outbreak response efforts, as well as press members seeking outbreak-related commentary.
But gender representation alone is not enough, says Dr. Dhatt. "Achieving equal representation is a first step towards approaching outbreak response through a more comprehensive gender equity lens. We know that gender-based inequalities can make outbreaks worse – and that women are often the most vulnerable because of their positions as caregivers and frontline health workers – but we're failing at incorporating these considerations into outbreak responses. It's a vicious cycle that contributes to ineffective control measures."
Including more women decision-makers in outbreak responses could help end the cycle by establishing gender analysis as a critical step in controlling emerging infectious diseases. This approach, which analyzes factors like the role of women in health care provision, the differences in disease transmission and outcomes between the sexes, and gender-based disparities in the way the sick seek medical care, is important to better understanding outbreaks when they occur – and can help guide effective outbreak response strategy.
In the end, Operation 50/50 is about more than just giving women a seat at the global health security table, says Dr. Dhatt. "By excluding women's expertise and knowledge, we are fighting a serious global health threat with one hand tied behind our backs. Defeating this outbreak means bringing all talent and perspectives to the table. That's how lives will be saved."
About Women in Global Health Established in 2015, Women in Global Health (WGH) is a rapidly growing global movement to achieve gender equality in global health leadership. We believe that everyone has the right to attain equal levels of participation in leadership and decision-making regardless of gender. WGH creates a platform for discussions and collaborative space for leadership, facilitates specific education and training, garners support and commitment from the global community, and demands change for Gender Transformative Leadership. The global team and local chapters elevate women from diverse backgrounds, especially women working in the health sector in low- and middle-income countries.
About Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security At Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS), we believe global issues demand a variety of perspectives. That's why we're creating a platform devoted to women of color that cultivates a strong voice and network for its members while encouraging dialogue and strategies for engaging in policy discussions on an international scale. Through our dedication to mentorships and partnerships and our passion for changing the global community landscape, we remain committed to achieving our vision of advancing the leadership and professional development of women of color in the fields of international peace, security and conflict transformation.
Media contacts: Katie Gorham, Communications Director Women in Global Health Katie.Gorham@womeningh.org +14439835006
Sarah Hillware, Deputy Director Women in Global Health Sarah.Hillware@womeningh.org +12024150999