Women and Global Health: Eight Items We Will Be Tracking at WHA71


Images by Caity Jackson, Co-Founder & Director of Communications

Released: 21 May 2018

The 71st World Health Assembly (WHA71) in May 2018 will be the first led by the new DG WHO, Dr Tedros. Dr Tedros has made such a firm impression as the ‘people’s DG’ through twitter and personal meetings that it seems like he has been in the post for much longer. It has been less than a year. This will be an important opportunity for Dr Tedros to convince Health Ministers and senior decision makers in the global health community to get behind his vision for WHO.

This will also be the first WHA in their current posts for the WHO senior leadership team (60% women) appointed by Dr Tedros. Most are familiar with the global health space but some are new to the intensely busy and highly political WHA global health market place. It will be an opportunity to network, listen and reflect.

Women in Global Health will be at WHA promoting gender equity and women’s leadership in global health to ensure both stay high on the global health agenda. Not as a ‘nice to have’ but because gender equality is smart global health.

Here are the top eight items WGH will be tracking at WHA71:

1. Approval of the WHO General Programme of Work (GPW13) 2019 – 2023 (Agenda item 11.1). The hard work has been done on this with Member States, WGH is supportive and we trust it will be approved. We believe that achieving the ‘triple billion goals’ of GPW13 would be the turning point we have been looking for in global health:

  • 1 billion more people benefitting from UHC

  • 1 billion more people better protected from health emergencies

  • 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being

After decades of progress in many areas, slow progress in others and regression in some it is time to get behind these inspirational goals and be remembered as the generation that delivered health for all (and all means ALL women and girls). The focus from now on will be on delivery.

2. And finance will be critical to delivery of GPW13. Having listened to Dr Tedros campaign and then voted for his vision, we expect WHO Member States to fund the GPW13, particularly with Core Voluntary Contributions which can be used flexibly by WHO to support cross cutting areas of work like Ageing and Health and Gender Equity and Human Rights (GER), essential to policy, programming and delivery in all areas. In 2017 funds available fell short of even the modest budgets (Ageing $14million, GER $16million) agreed by Member States

3. It would be simplistic to assume that gender equality has been ‘mainstreamed’ and so is already being addressed effectively in all areas of WHO’s programmatic work and internal management. Indeed, the recently released draft report of the NCD Commission in advance of the September HLM on NCDs, made no mention of gender equality. NCDs affect women and men differently and they play different roles in prevention, control and care. Dr Tedros has created a new post of DG’s Senior Adviser in Gender and Youth, held by Diah Samarsih to coordinate and drive action. WGH will support the Senior Adviser to hold a first informal consultation with member states and senior experts on increasing momentum on gender equality. Kick starting gender mainstreaming in WHO now will be imperative to achieving WHO’s commitments including UHC and the new GPW13.

4. Partnerships: WHO does not need to do everything itself. It can and should draw upon the expertise in Member States, the UN system, multilateral agencies and non state actors. WGH has been pleased to be a member of the WHO-CSO Task Team, a valuable exercise bringing together CSOs from different sectors that do not always work together, to share views and advise WHO. The report will be presented at an event at WHA highlighting the important contribution of CSOs in global health.

May 22 (6:00pm-7:30pm CET) : WHO's Engagement with Civil Society: Taking Civil Society Engagement to New Heights

5. Partnerships are key to delivery of Universal Health Coverage, the biggest show in the global health town. UHC should and will dominate WHA71. And the big question will be how to make real headway on UHC before the 2019 HLM? We are pleased that WGH will be joining UHC 2030 at WHA as a partner and signatory to the Global Compact. Major gender issues, particularly around the health workforce will determine the success of UHC and these have yet to be fully addressed.

May 23 (6:00pm-7:30pm CET) : UHC2030 Side Event - Member States Commitment to the Global Movement towards Universal Health Coverage

6. A meeting will be held at WHA of the WHO’s Global Health Worker Network (GHWN). WGH co chairs with WHO the GHWN’s Gender Equity Hub. WGH will present a report on addressing gender inequities in the health and social care workforce– a critical health systems issue since 70% health and social care workers globally are women. Of the 43.5 million health workers, an estimated 20.7 million are nurses and midwives. Earlier this year the campaign Nursing Now was launched bringing together nurses groups globally focusing on strengthening the nursing profession. WHO has also created the new post of Chief Nursing Officer. With 40 million more health worker jobs needed (18million in LICs) resilient health systems and UHC cannot be achieved without addressing the gendered aspects of the workforce. If we invest in women they will fill the health worker jobs needed to deliver UHC, creating more formal sector, decent work for women and increasing women’s social and economic status (the gender dividend). Our hope is that Member States and senior global health decision makers will leave WHA71 understanding that women are drivers and change agents in global health, not just victims as often portrayed.

7. Amongst other issues, Polio eradication is on the WHA agenda. Excellent work continues to be done by WHO on Polio Eradication and despite setbacks, eradication seems close. It is important to celebrate these major breakthroughs in global health and to recognise the contribution of frontline female healthworkers. Female polio vaccinators in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in particular, have worked in high risk and challenging circumstances. We were outraged to hear of the murders of a mother and daughter vaccinator team in Pakistan earlier this year. This highlights the danger many female health workers face just doing their jobs. WGH will work with partners to mount a Heroines of Health event to honour frontline women health workers and bring their voices to the global health table.

May 22 (12:30pm-2:30pm CET) : Technical Briefing on Primary Health Care as a key to achieving Universal Health Coverage ​(Christine Mataza in Global Health, Heroin​e of Health Awardee selected to speak)

8. #MeTooGlobalHealth: In the last year the #MeToo movement, bringing to light sexual harassment and abuse of women at work, has spread to #AidToo. WGH will speak at an event on this at WHA71 and we expect wider coverage of this important issue at WHA. Sexual harassment of women in global health is not new but has generally been hidden and unreported or the women who reported it suffered retaliation and were ignored. Sexual harassment impacts women’s health, careers and morale. Although very little data exists WGH research suggests that this is a near universal experience for female health workers. This creates a toxic work environment for female health workers with huge costs for those women but also huge costs for health systems and health delivery. With a global shortage of 40 million health workers no country can afford to lose women from the health workforce. It is positive that #MeTooGlobalHealth is being discussed because that is the first step to uncovering the truth and fixing it.

May 26 (12:30pm-2:30pm CET) : #AidToo: Sexual exploitation in international cooperation at the Graduate Institute Geneva

What we ask from WHA71

1. Strong support from Member States for the new DG, Dr Tedros, his leadership team and GPW13. This should be accompanied by funding for WHO for delivery of GPW13, and particularly, crosscutting programmes such as gender equality.

2. Recommendations of the WHO-CSO Task Team adopted, recognizing the expertise and reach of NGOs. WGH are ready to support WHO and Member States going forward. We urge UN agencies, global health organisations and Non State Actors to collaborate to maximize resources and impact and not work in silos.

3. Member States support WHO to continue momentum started on gender parity in leadership so it extends to regional and country offices, take steps to introduce a gender transformative organizational culture and institutionalise gender mainstreaming though all areas of WHO’s programmatic work. In particular, we urge WHO and the World Bank to set up a working group on Gender Equality and UHC. WGH hope that the EMRO region will break with 70 years of male leadership and select a woman as the next Regional Director. WGH’s aim, however, is that all leaders in global health, male and female, will be gender transformative leaders.

4. WHO and Member States change the narrative on women and global health. Women’s health is a critical priority. Every woman and girl has a right to quality, affordable care. But women, as the majority of global health and social care workers must be recognised as drivers and change agents in global health.

5. WHO and Member States to take action on #MeTooGlobalHealth and end toxic working environments for female health and social care workers so all can work with dignity and security.

If you to know where and what the Women in Global Health team will be doing, check out our Walk the Talk with Women in Global Health at the 71st World Health Assembly Special Issue.

Join us for our Meet and Greet.

May 22 (2:30pm-3:30pm CET) : Women in Global Health Meet & Greet

Take Action now for Gender Equality:

1. Release of Gender Pocket Guide

2. Women in Global Health Call for Commitments

3. Women in Global Health Gender Parity Panel Pledge

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