Snowball Effect: Reflections on Women Leaders in Global Health Conference 2017

The inaugural Women Leaders in Global Health Conference was energizing. The shared experiences of women and men, were both moving and revealing, and the passion in the room and virtually is apparent. The dialogue exposed the need for shared vision, values, responsibility, but also the importance of many more voices, greater equity, diversity, inclusion, and redefining leadership.

Our five key takeaways:

  1. Gender equality is smart global health. Diverse teams & leadership leads to better decision making and outcomes, as Hannah Valentine from NIH stated in her closing keynote.

  2. The problem is global with manifestations at all levels. Under representation of women in global health is a global problem, but women in different places face different pressures and have different priorities. Although all women face the gender pay gap Aparna Malhotra from UN Women reminded us of the dangers faced by women on the front lines of health who risk their lives and safety every day to deliver healthcare to others.

  3. Talent comes from everywhere. Shifting power requires us to recognize the value of diversity, as well as gender is tangible. We need all voices at the table and women from the South find it hardest to get recognised and heard at Global level (internships favour high income countries etc). Women in Global Health as an organisation with subscribers 10,000+ from over 70 countries has heard the voices of many from all walks of life expressing the desire for greater visibility, recognition and opportunities, a seat at the table.

  4. Engaging men is essential, as this is everybody’s issue. We all gain from gender equality, as it allows us to break down gender norms and create a new normative for leadership. This shifts the paradigm for all.

  5. Movements matter. We can have great tools and policies etc and things don’t move or move at a glacial pace because the status quo is accepted as normal and bias is resistant to change. But this issue and the Women Leaders in Global Health conference shows that movements can catalyse rapid change. I.e. The #Metoo and Harvey Weinstein. Butterfly wings in Hollywood have led women in different countries and sectors to shine a light on hidden sexual violence. Those butterfly wings just led to the resignation of a UK Minister of Defense and for sure others will follow. This movement is rolling and women in health are joining forces to say enough.

From Stanford we move to London next year (November 8-9, 2018)-- rolling this snowball that gets bigger every day and is getting too big to ignore.

This conference created space for new connections, meaningful dialogue and an opportunity to inspire action. There is still much more to understand, many more people to reach and work with, and untapped potential in our broader global health community to be able to amplify efforts.

Women in Global Health, founded in early 2015, as a movement envisioning gender equality in global health leadership, is thrilled to see the movement grow and the conference being a milestone. As the implementing partner of the conference, we express our gratitude to Stanford University and the Stanford Global Health team led by Dr. Michele Barry and Kathy Burke, who hosted and organized the event. We also thank all the partners, supporters, volunteers, and the passionate people who came together in person and virtually to make this conference and our role in advancing gender equality a reality.

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