The first of its kind: Book on women and global health leadership

Lynda Keeru reports back on the book launch for Women and global health leadership: Power and transformation.

This book could not have been launched on a more befitting day, International Women’s day 2022. The authors and editors of the book are a bunch of brilliant, erudite women, well versed in global health matters. The book is a rallying call to arms to redress gender inequality and celebrate the many ways in which women are taking the lead in supporting the health in their communities. The launch was a very timely, as it presented an opportunity to celebrate women taking lead in supporting the health in their communities and their historic contribution.

This book is a first of its kind as it fills the gap in the literature. At a time when women are experts in global health but their professional experience and diverse perspectives are not valued sufficiently to guarantee them an equal place in leadership, the launch of this book is incredibly apt. Women held only 25% of leadership roles in health before the pandemic and women from the global south are further under-represented yet they make up 70% of the workforce. The frontline response of the pandemic was 90% women.

The establishment of root drivers of inequality and driving systems’ change are some of the key themes in the book. The book is inspired by partners, movements, organizations and communities that have been working to advance gender equality and spotlight women’s leadership.

A lot of ground has been lost with the onset of the pandemic and since this book went into production. A look at WHO’S Executive Board, the percentage of number of women that hold these seats went from 30% in early 2020, to 6% in January 2022. This is a reflection of where power is being shifted. This book highlights the many forms of leadership and demystifies social norms that reinforce the myths that men are natural leaders and women are destined to be followers.

Women in Global Health propose a four-point framework for change to support women’s leadership. First, governments must build the foundation for equality. Secondly, addressing social norms and stereotypes that drive gendered segregation. Third, is the need to address systemic inequalities and bias in work places and culture that favors men for leadership roles. Finally, enabling women to apply for leadership positions equally and on merit.

The book compiles research evidence examining barriers and facilitators to women’s global health leadership. It showcases personal, professional and political journeys to leadership of women across global health sectors. It additionally offers pragmatic solutions to increasing women’s representation in global health at different levels. It is a labor of love consisting of contributors and interviewees from 17 countries and six regions; hence providing a diversity of voices globally.

The book was inspired by a question that sought to find out:

“Why despite women representing the majority of people working to improve health outcomes in communities, non-governmental and multilateral organizations both as paid and unpaid health and social care workers, the existing governance system privileges men and what can be done to redress the imbalance?”

It takes its readers on an exploration of leadership roles that women currently play in global health and teases out the routes that women have taken to leadership. It also explores the challenges that these women have faced and things that have facilitated their journeys.

It brings to the fore stories of women on the frontlines of this struggle from around the world highlighting and complimenting these stories. It buttresses this with theoretical and analytical explorations of the structures and systems that help or hinder the process.  The authors engaged ministers of health, policy makers, practitioners, academicians, students, researchers, healthcare workers, health service managers and members of multilateral organizations.

By highlighting key barriers and facilitators to women and global health leadership, the writers hope that organizations will use this book to help inform the development of institutional policies and procedures to support women in leadership positions across academic, health workforce and global health governance systems.

The editors too had a heartfelt word for their readers:

“We hope that within the pages of this book you will find information, inspiration and hope for how you can play a part in changing systems that no longer serve us well: information about women’s leadership experiences, inspiration from women leaders themselves, and hope for leadership systems and structures which are more equitable and just-leadership which places the most marginalized at the center and purposefully works towards positive change.”

Check the book out. It will be worth your time!!