Emerging Voices & Health Systems Research Global Global Symposium 2016 Event Summary

In November 2016, Women in Global Health had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV) program as part of the Health Systems Research Global Symposium (HSR 2016) in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This immersive, 2 week training program for emerging leaders in the global health research arena was an incredible chance for participants to develop the professional skills needed to advance their global health careers. It also gave Women in Global Health the opportunity to showcase our work in a number of mediums and learn from our peers about their experiences with gender, leadership and barriers they may have experienced or perceived.

As part of EV, WGH developed and showcased a poster in partnership with Research in Gender and Ethics (RinGs) on Women’s Leadership in Global Health: Contributing to Health Systems Resilience which outlined disparities that women face in the global health arena, and solutions to overcome these barriers. Today, women make up almost 75% of the healthcare workforce, but only approximately 25% of leadership positions are held by women. There are of course regional differences and differences across fields and sectors but the trend persists globally. For example, 76% of directors of global health centers at the top 50 US medical schools are men, while 73% of Ministers of Health are men. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 70% of leadership positions at foundations were held by women in 2015, however, there are important outliers, such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which only has 25% women in leadership roles. 1

Important steps can and need to be taken to increase women’s roles in leadership positions and these were outlined in the poster. Included in these points were:

  • The idea that gender transformative leadership is needed at all levels of global health and health systems in order to work towards eliminating gender biases and discrimination

  • Capacity building is necessary: all people working in global health and the health sector should go through gender responsive training as part of core competency training

  • Global health organizations should create enabling environments that showcase women’s leadership

  • Mentorship should be cultivated at the beginning of women’s carriers, with greater investment at mid-career when women are most likely to drop out

  • More data is needed and data should be disaggregated and responsive to gender

In addition to the poster, WGH gave a workshop focused on teaching our global health emerging voices to apply a gender lens as global health researchers. From this workshop, participants acknowledged that they do notice a gender bias at the individual level as well within their institutional space in research and that more needs to be done to address it. Additionally, participants felt that they didn’t have the space to discuss the barriers they noticed and were energized to go beyond conversations about the issue and engage in critical thinking about how they can implement change in their own space to create a more gender equal environment.

Because EV was an immersive event, Director Roopa Dhatt and Development Director Kati Wilkins spent 10 days working and interacting with the other participants of EV, which allowed both women to discuss issues surrounding women in leadership within global health in both a formal and informal context. A great deal of time was spent chatting with other EVs about their experiences with women in leadership positions over dinner and in informal conversations, allowing us to learn a great deal from this diverse group regarding their thoughts about the issue. Many of the women talked about how challenging it was to be a woman in the field and how difficult it can be to get ahead. Conversely, many of the men in EV showed incredible support for the movement, and a number asked how they could get involved or otherwise help their female colleagues to achieve career success.

Women in Global Health also participated in workshops and sessions with our partners, Research in Gender and Ethics (RinGs), as both co-moderators/facilitators, and as participants. Roopa Dhatt co-moderated a workshop on “Power and prejudice: How does inequity play out in the institutions and processes of health systems research?” while Kati Wilkins facilitated one of the breakout groups. The session focused on dissecting the power and privilege dynamics that researchers experience in their field. A number of participants talked about the difficulty of trying to advance their career due to ingrained gender biases which create unequal power dynamics within their institutions. After the workshop, RinGs and WGH co-hosted a Gender meet-and-greet for professionals interested in meeting others who are also interested in incorporating aspects of gender into their research in an informal setting. Both events were well attended and received. Finally, Kati participated in “How to do gender analysis in health systems research”, a fantastic session hosted by RinGs which allowed participants to learn how to conduct gender analysis with their research in a participatory manner. The session generated robust dialogue about different aspects of gender transformative leadership and will be very helpful in our work at WGH, as we advocate for more gender transformative leadership.

Overall, both EV and HSR2016 were great successes for WGH. We learned a great deal from our conversations with participants and we found that our work resonated with many of the EVs and conference participants, a number of which were excited to get more involved or use the gender lens in their own work. The EV Secretariat also provided WGH with a number of opportunities to engage both during the training session and afterwards, which we are incredibly thankful for.

1. Dhatt, R., Theobald, S., Buzuzi, S., Ros, B., Vong, s., Muraya, K., Molyneux, K., Hawkins, K., González-Beiras, C., Ronsin, K., Lichtenstein, D., Wilkins, K., Thompson, K., Davis, K., Jackson, C. (in press) The Role of Women’s Leadership and Gender Equity in Leadership and Health System Strengthening. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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