Four reflections from our training at the Human Resources for Health Forum

By Kate Hawkins

With contributions from Rosemary Morgan, Kelly Thompson, Roopa Dhatt, and Sarah Ssali

RinGs and Women in Global Health have invested time in conducting gender training over the last few years. It is a great opportunity to build the skills of our community and receive much needed feedback on some of the concepts that we are tackling in our own work. The recent Forum on Human Resources for Health provided another space for a workshop, ‘From Gender Blind to Gender Transformative Human Resources for Health Research’.

The session was a chance for participants to use practical tools to explore different ways gender analysis can be incorporated into human resources for health research, leading to better and more equitable recommendations, interventions and policies.

So what are our reflections?

1. Research is an important foundation for decision making

There were many calls within the conference to pay more attention to gender, particularly when it comes to policy issues like: ensuring parity between men and women when it comes to pay; putting in place actions to support women’s leadership (given that they comprise the majority of the workforce and yet are under-represented at decision making levels); dealing with the violence (sexual and otherwise) that woman health workers experience; acknowledging the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women as community health workers and carers in the household; and gendering the idea of decent work. While we acknowledge that the impetus of policy change is often political rather than evidence based, there is an urgent need to finance and support researchers who are gathering the data on gender that can lead to informed decision making.

2. Gender analysis is a continuum

Even research that ostensibly pays no attention to gender can fit on a continuum. If your work is gender unequal it may well perpetuate gender inequalities. Gender blind research, on the other hand, ignores gender norms. Because we believe that it is important to look at gender in human resources for health research we prefer work which sits further up the scale. Although we acknowledge that it may not be possible for all work to be gender transformative.

3. Sometimes ‘gold standard’ research doesn’t deal with gender very well

In the world of health research we are often encouraged to consider RCTs and systematic reviews as the gold standard of evidence generation. However, participants in our session suggested that they have become reified and assumed this enormous impact in the literature which leads to the suppression of qualitative work. As one participant put it, “An aggregation of gender blind reviews is not going to help us towards our ends.” When looking at gender there is a need to consider context and the systems and processes that health workers are embedded within which qualitative work does so well. Indeed gender transformative research may favour more participatory methods as these are explicitly focused on underlying gender (and other) power relations. Can research even be ‘gold standard’ if it doesn’t deal with gender?

4. Gender analysis matters to men too!

We have long said that gender analysis and gender equity is not just an issue of concern for women. In fact men and people of other genders can be profoundly harmed by the discriminatory and unequal systems that currently govern the health system. At our gender training we were heartened to see that 17 out of the 47 participants were men. This is possibly the largest proportion of men we have had in such a training. Is the tide turning? Are men working on human resources for health more gender-interested than their peers in other areas of the health sector? This remains to be seen. But we salute all our participants and thank you for attending!

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