This conference was a chance to draw on insights from the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment programme to look back at what has been achieved since the Beijing 4th World Women’s Conference in 1995 and forward to the post-2015 agenda. I was contracted to write the meeting report which contains insights for researchers, advocates, practitioners, and policy makers.
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Migrating out of Poverty is a DFID-funded project with partners in Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The goal of Migrating out of Poverty is to maximise the poverty reducing and developmental impacts of migration and minimise the costs and risks of migration for poor people. We manage the communication function for this consortium by coordinating a team of communication professionals who are working to improve the communication and uptake of the findings from the project. This includes planning and implementing conferences and events, managing the web and social media presence, supporting writing and publishing, capacity and skills development, and the creation of systems and guidelines for the project.
The first few years of life are crucial to outcomes later (whether it’s in health, wellbeing, or social and economic position) that this is an area that deserves attention. We were contracted by Oxford Policy Management to work on this ongoing project which also includes icddr,b in Bangladesh. This included supporting a stakeholder mapping process of surveys and key informant interviews, writing a communications strategy for the project, and developing a series of briefs and plain English summaries.
The Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA) brings together all stakeholders in the medicines market to improve access, availability and affordability of medicines for the one-third of the world’s population to whom access is currently denied. The project was externally evaluated and Pamoja Communications put together a communications strategy to disseminate and share the findings of the evaluation.
This project included reviewing and rewriting the Centre’s website and co-producing promotional materials. As part of the process we interviewed staff and students about their relationship to the Centre.
Kate Hawkins, Pamoja Communications Ltd./Research in Gender and Ethics: Building Stronger Health Systems
Just in time for International Women’s Day 2018 the Global Equity Hub (coordinated by Women in Global Health and The WHO Global Health Workforce Network) held a hard-hitting webinar on Gender Transformative Approaches in the Health and Social Sectors. Drawing on expert opinion from the Africa, Europe and the Caribbean the speakers described a sector in crisis, and one that needs urgent reform if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and other international targets.
The health and social workforce needs gender-transformative reform
In introducing the webinar Tana Wuliji explained that the global economy is projected to create around 40 million new health and social sector jobs by 2030. However, there is a projected shortfall of 18 million health workers and the problem is particularly pronounced in low-income countries. Much of the global dialogue on women and health focuses on women’s health and does not recognise the significant contribution women make to global health. Women’s contribution to global health, where they perform about 70% of all jobs, is US$3 trillion. Half of all of this work is in unpaid care roles, which are finally beginning to be seen as legitimate work by international policy making bodies.
Yet when you invest in the care economy you can boost overall employment, particularly the employment of women. With the right investments we could make a step forward on gender equity. This is the aim of the Gender and Equity hub, it is trying to accelerate this change by bringing together evidence, advocacy and a community of change-makers which can be used to accelerate gender transformative policy and practice in the health and social sector.
Women health workers face violence and sexual harassment at work
Health care is dangerous work. Shockingly, in the presentation by Sandra Massiah we heard that 25% of all violence in the world of work occurs in the health sector. This occurs across all countries and occupations in the sector. Furthermore, there is a growing culture of violence and conflict in many settings and austerity measures are leading to increased inequality which in turn leads to violent acts from third-parties.
Often there is a lack of legislation specifically on workplace violence and when it exists it is not implemented or policed (by unions and civil society). Particularly vulnerable women, for example young women and single mothers, are more frightened of reporting harassment and bullying in case they lose their employment.
She described the work of Public Services International with Lady Health Workers in Pakistan which revealed widespread sexual harassment in the field, sexual harassment by co-workers/colleagues, domestic violence, humiliation by community members, and violence from extremist groups.
Sadly, these dangers are also found in health worker education. The presentation from Varwo Sitor-Gbassie (Maternal and Child Survival Program Human Resources for Health Project) focused on Liberia. Their 2017 research aimed to increase women’s matriculation rates and reduce drop outs in pre-service health education. They found that there was very limited access to gender training in schools, there was poor access to sexual and reproductive health services, female students were not kept safe and secure, and there was sexual harassment on campus. School policies were also discriminatory. Pregnant learners were also forced to leave their studies for two years.
Fragile and conflict affected states have particular problems
Presenting on the health workforce, gender and conflict-affected and fragile states Sally Theobaldreported that there are severe challenges recruiting health care workers (training institutions have been destroyed and staff have been killed or fled). In addition to the under-representation of women in leadership positions and the struggle to balance caring responsibilities in the home and work which are found in other settings women in conflict settings deploy various strategies to cope. They talked of blending in so that it wasn’t so apparent that they were health care workers:
‘…the rebels came, abducted the in-charge and killed a nursing aide. I managed to escape but … I ran among the community members… I would not treat my hair… they [rebels] would follow you because you look different from other people. … That is why they [rebels] did not focus on me particularly because I was exactly like the community. And I used to buy simple clothes for my baby like for the community, even this one’ (woman health care worker, Northern Uganda)
In Cambodia male health workers trained themselves to use weapons for protection, whereas female health workers found ways to escape. In Sierra Leone health workers were targeted for kidnapping to provide health services behind rebel lines; female health workers also faced the additional risk of sexual violence if kidnapped by the rebels. Despite this, women showed special resilience and courage, supported by links to families and communities.
Sandra Massiah reflected on their work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2011, nurses and other healthcare workers have faced increased violence as a result of the military conflict and because of suspicion and traditional views: rape, molestation as well as attacks and murder during vaccination campaigns. SOLSICO reports that between 2011 and the present, over 700 nurses were raped and 188 killed. Poor working conditions in hospitals result in illnesses and death due to infections.
Employers have a duty of care and states must enforce this: Sandra Massiah provided valuable insights on how the trade union movement is organising to tackle both gender inequity (for example on pay), gendered violence in the health workplace, and patriarchal norms. PSI are calling for national governments and employers to support an ILO convention and recommendation on this issue. Assisting affiliates in linking gender-based violence and harassment to the campaign for Gender Responsive Public Services (GRPS). Promoting and encouraging the attendance and participation of members of national women’s committees in International Labour Conference discussions on the issues. Public services unions have a critical role to play in discussions and policy formulation on violence in society. Furthermore, she argued that tax justice is a gender issue – as it contributes to the public sector and thus the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Gendered reform in the sector is reliant on this source of funding.
“Collective action by organised workers has proved to be a crucial means to mount a challenge to addressing inequality in remuneration between men and women…These struggles contribute to challenging the gendered construction of the economic and social value of productive and reproductive work that these inequalities stem from.”
Gendered approaches to health systems: As Sally Theobald argued, health systems are part of, and reflect, the broader social structures they are situated within. They are shaped by gender and other relations of power. This means that we must pay attention to systems and structures that maintain in equity in our research and policy frameworks. We also need to look at norms in households and communities as this shapes the way health systems operate and how unpaid care roles are distributed.
Institutional monitoring and transformation: Emma Nofal, an Athena Swan NHS Fellow from the United Kingdom presented on how inequality is being tackled in the National Health Service. The Athena Swan Programme was developed in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. Emma’s team are adapting this for use in the health sector through a pilot study in Sheffield teaching hospitals. Members who sign up to the charter apply for an award which is dependent on a focus on promoting and supporting gender equality for women. It has enabled them to develop a better understanding of the barriers there are for women in progressing, accessing training, accessing maternity leave, pay banding and how we can make the working lives of staff better.
Supporting women’s leadership: Participants suggested that we need to encourage women’s leadership in the health and social care sector and this includes men in managerial positions pushing for change, supporting training for women and removing the barriers that they currently face. In the union sector we need to engage brothers to make the necessary changes in their thinking and attitudes. This may mean initiatives to educate them about what is going wrong and how they can become allies in transformative change.
Zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence: On the webinar there was a call for a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and violence, including in the health workplace. We need to centre the victims of violence and support them when they come forward (including with psycho-social interventions). Workplace policies need to be assessed and updated and workplaces need to become safe spaces for raising issues gendered and other forms of discrimination, this may also mean tackling bullying in the workplace more generally. Leaders in global health and in politics need to openly add their voices to calls against sexual harassment and set global standards to tackle violence in the world of health work.
Contact email@example.com for more information about the Global Health Workforce Network Gender Equity Hub.
On International Women’s Day we need to shine a spotlight on women in fragile and conflict-affected settings
This blog post is part of a wider HSG blog series to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018. In this series, HSG members provide their perspectives on why gender should be a critical component of UHC, and what we can do about it.
By Sally Theobald, Valerie Percival and Kate Hawkins
Attention to fragile and conflict-affected states is critical to achieving universal health coverage, along with progress on other Sustainable Development Goals on gender equity and social justice. We need to ensure that women’s needs are met during crises and war, and that we join up action here with longer term, sustainable solutions.
Gender inequities neglected
In our work on gender and post-conflict health systems – Building Back Better – we explored the extent to which gender had been addressed in health systems rebuilding in several post-conflict states, including Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Northern Uganda, Timor Leste, Zimbabwe, Cambodia and Bangladesh. We found limited attention to gender equity in rebuilding efforts, and that conflict-related inequitable health outcomes linger in post-conflict health systems. These have wide-reaching implications for the health of communities, which need addressing urgently.
To borrow the strapline for International Women’s Day 2018 we need to “#pressforprogress” against pernicious gender inequities in health systems in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Health systems are key employers and respected institutions within society; they both reflect and shape the social, political and economic context that they are part of, and the lack of emphasis on gender equity within health systems is a significant missed opportunity. The health system could, and should, be an arena for building greater gender equity in all society.
Policymakers assume that if you build health systems they will be equitable; yet there is little guidance for people who may want to take a gendered approach to planning and implementation. To help address this, we developed bench marks for gender equity to be addressed within the health system, and produced case studies to highlight change and promising practice, including indigenous efforts towards embedding gender equity, such as in post-conflict Bangladesh.
Supporting female health workers
Health systems strengthening efforts require a strong and supported health workforce. There are challenges here in fragile and post-conflict contexts, where health workers are few, due to death or out-migration. In these settings there is a particular need to recognise and support the vital work of women health workers at all levels of the health system. This was an area of focus in a recent webinar jointly hosted by the World Health Organisation, the Global Health Workforce Network and Women in Global Health. Our research on the ‘gendered health workforce’, conducted through the ReBUILD and RinGs programmes, was presented, highlighting not only the multiple challenges women health workers face in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Cambodia and northern Uganda, but also the incredible resilience they show in continuing to deliver vital services despite threats to their own lives, and risks of sexual and gender-based violence.
On International Women’s Day we call for women health workers working in contexts of ongoing crises and conflict, such as Yemen, to be recognised, celebrated, supported and kept safe.
Pressing for progress
The recent launches of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and DFID’s Strategic Vision for Gender Equality (which has a specific focus on protecting and empowering girls and women in conflict, protracted crises and humanitarian emergencies) shows increasing focus on this issue, which is welcome. “Pressing for progress” means that all actors need to focus seriously on gender in their work. Strong, joined-up and gender transformative approaches to health systems strengthening are required.
Part of REACHOUT’s communication strategy was to attend and present at national, regional and international conferences – both to target other academic and research audiences to share learning on areas of mutual interest and also to network and engage with policy makers and practitioners. Over time our approach to conferences has adapted based on learning of what has the most impact and encourages engagement with stakeholders, evidence, and current debates. Our relationship with organisations like Health Systems Global (who organise the major two-yearly global conference) has deepened and we decided to invest time and resources in helping to found and organise their Thematic Working Group on Strengthening and Supporting the Role of Community Health Workers in Health Systems Development. In parallel, as a team, we have improved our skills in facilitation and presentation through capacity development training and experiential learning, or learning-by-doing, particularly among the more junior researchers in our consortium. This has included how to define key messages, the use of photographs, making the visual lay out of slides engaging, presentation skills, and participatory approaches for meetings. We have invested in advertising our conference attendance, reinforcing the REACHOUT branding, buddying each other to provide support and make sure that our presentations, panels, and posters are documented and shared on social media and blogs. This has meant that over time we have learned to work as a team to maximise the impact of our involvement in these meetings, culminating in the Symposium on Community Health Workers and their Contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goals which was held in February 2017 in Kampala.
“We live in a rapidly changing world where it is difficult to keep up. Sexual and reproductive health needs, desires, expectations, and pressures are part of this.” –Sabina Faiz Rashid, Dean, BRAC JPGSPH
From the 30-31 January I was lucky to attend the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) Gender and Sexual Reproductive Health Conference for Young Adults 2018. The first day had a focus on young people (and over 700 university students participated) and on the second day the dialogue was with practitioners. This was a fantastic opportunity to not only hear about cutting-edge research for Bangladesh but also engage in a dialogue with researchers and civil society leaders from the region. It is very rare that I get to hear the views of young people, unmediated by a scholar or a journalist and I very much appreciated their inputs, and their insights into the issues that matter most in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
It is hard to do justice to a conference with such riches of ideas. Here are six of the conference themes that stood out for me.
1. We need to better acknowledge the agency and power of young people.
Maheen Sultan, who is leading the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), pointed out that today’s adolescents increasingly see themselves as people with agency and a voice. It is beholden on public health practitioners to accept this and listen and learn from younger people in the organisation of services and interventions. As one speaker pointed out, young people talk about desire, emotion, sexual orientation, pornography, and drugs but we don’t engage with them on this. There is no space to talk about the issues that they find pertinent, there is just silence. Luckily the conference bucked this trend.
There was a fascinating insight into young people’s agency in the presentation by Seama Mowri, project coordinator at JPGSPH, on early and child marriage in Bangladesh and how it can be addressed. Early marriage is occurring in urban slums which are in a period of transition (with Dhaka on its way to becoming the sixth largest mega-city by 2030). Young people live with insecurity in the forms of the risk of eviction, fragmented families, and criminality. It is within this environment that they navigate narrow and difficult choices. Mowri’s interviews with 130 young people and other stakeholders found that the average age of marriage was 15-16 years and that love relationships were losing their taboo status. In a context where many young people had access to a mobile device, the older generation were increasingly concerned that this form of communication was leading to clandestine relationships and elopement. We heard that sometimes adolescents blackmailed other young people or their parents into agreeing to early marriage, threatening to run away or commit suicide if their desires weren’t fulfilled. Within marriages the majority of married girls wanted to delay pregnancy and took responsibility for contraception even if their husband did not (and sometimes kept it a secret from husband and in-laws). Furthermore, remaining single and entering the world of work was not necessarily considered empowering. Young working women talked of the need for protections against assault and harassment. This evidence was refreshing as it did not rely on stereotypes about young people’s lives. It demonstrated the agency of young women living in difficult situations. Interventions to halt or reduce early marriage are unlikely to succeed unless they take these women’s views and life experiences into account.
2. Intersectionality matters.
A strong message from the conference was that we need more discussions of intersectionality and we need to purposefully integrate this analysis into our research and programming. Commenting on a session on mainstreaming sexual and reproductive health education, disability rights activist Anita Ghai lamented the ways in which people with disabilities were excluded from the narrative and the interventions that follow from it. For example, when talking about menstruation how often do educators talk about the forced hysterectomies performed on disabled girls because their menstruation is too ‘difficult to manage’? Or their sterilisation because parents don’t want their daughters to get pregnant? Sabina Faiz Rashid suggested that ‘inclusion’ is often performed in a very tokenistic way, “We cut and paste and replicate, we borrow. If we get compliant and complacent and we don’t look at the heart level about who we are leaving out and what we are uncomfortable with we will lose out.” If sexuality education truly informs young people and empowers them to take control of their lives, as Chief of Health at UNFPA Bangladesh, Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy argued, we need to ensure that it is sensitive and responsive to all young people not just some imagined norm.
Intersectionality analysis matters when it comes to tackling harmful conceptions of masculinity too. Speaking on masculinities as a social construct, Anand Pawar, Executive Director of SAMYAK, argued that it is not enough for men to simply learn the language of gender equality without embodying these principles. He asked, “What if a gender sensitive man is Islamophobic or racist? Is this enough, if they are not working on power more generally?” There was a strong theme within the conference which stressed the need for a holistic analysis of vulnerability and privilege in sexual and reproductive health education and the way that simultaneous structural power relations shape this.
3. Race and colourism should be part of the conversation.
“When I was I in ninth grade and relatives would visit they would ask if I was actually my parents daughter because my skin is not fair like my brothers and sisters.” –Audience member
“I am dark skinned, and I am obese and our society always wants to point it out and judge. But I have a supportive family and I am really happy how I am.” –Audience member
We heard a fascinating talk by Azra Mahmood, one of Bangladesh’s top models, who experienced discrimination on the grounds of her darker skin and overcame these notions of beauty to have a successful career and found her own modelling agency.
She encouraged us all to take personal action to end bullying and discrimination based on society’s beauty standards and to use social media to spread the message.
There sometimes appears to be a reluctance among public health practitioners to talk freely about race and its impact on health and wellbeing – despite the ever-broadening evidence base that racial discrimination leads to psychological and physical ill-health the results of which can pass through generations.
4. Re-writing the masculinity script.
There were a few sessions at the conference that addressed what it is to be a man and how we define masculinity. Adnan Hossain’s presentation was a good reminder that there are many forms of masculinity, but some are hegemonic and others subaltern and there is a tendency to make a hierarchy of them. In Bangladesh, as in all other settings, notions of masculinity are historically dependent underpinned by a governing logic which stems from framings formed in colonial times, the war of liberation and in recent years related to economic growth.
We heard how normative ideas of masculinity tends to begin by constructing men in relation to their biology and social rituals such as heterosexual marriage and being an economic provider. Deviating from these norms can come with health and other costs and vulnerabilities. These issues are compounded for people who are non-binary, gay, bisexual and transgender. Adherence to these norms can also be unhealthy leading to self-neglect, poor health care seeking and underpinning gender-based violence against women, children, weaker men and non-binary people.
Drawing on his research of risky sexual behaviour and masculinity in Dhaka slums, Arifur Rahman painted a picture of a community of young men who were mostly sexually active before the age of 18 and had easy access to various types of illegal drugs. While many were having sex with girlfriends and with sex workers about half said that they were not satisfied with their sexual life. For some it went against social and religious norms and was shameful. Others felt it was unsafe. While they understood that using a condom and other forms of contraception was desirable they didn’t like buying condoms from the local pharmacy for privacy reasons, felt uncomfortable using them or had a lack of knowledge about them. A lack of privacy to have sex was also cited as a source of discomfort and vulnerability in this crowded urban space. The research uncovered tensions around their masculinity with concerns about sexual function and performance, such as premature ejaculation, about their ability to live up to financial expectations. Despite having girlfriends, they had conservative ideas about women’s dress and a victim blaming attitude towards harassment and assault. The majority said that if a woman doesn’t obey her husband then she deserves a beating, others said we should talk, others said that if it is extreme they should file for divorce.
In terms of efforts to challenge harmful masculinities, Sharful Islam Khan provided a wonderful case study from his anthropological studies with icddr,b arguing that global norms around masculinity are tied to notions of money, power and politics and privilege physical strength and toughness. These norms are reinforced by popular messaging, such as in the media. Anand Pawar argued that we need to create intervention with politicians, religious leaders and other powerful people who are creating the notion of manhood rather than only focusing on poor men. And we need to talk about market constructed norms of masculinity and the influence that they have.
5. Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand.
“When I had my diagnosis, I was more afraid people would know my HIV status than my fear of dying. At the weekend I would go into nature and close my eyes and contemplate that we all share the same universal consciousness. We all go through sadness, happiness… Now I only think about HIV when I take my medication at night. At other times, I don’t [care] about HIV.” –Wangda Dorji
“It is ok to hurt, and it is ok not to be ok.” –Onaiza Owais
Some sessions at the conference highlighted the importance of mental health to young people’s wellbeing more generally. Ms Onaiza Owais reflected on her own experiences of depression during university, seeking psychological assistance and medication and how finding a peer group who she could talk with in a safe space led her to use her experiences in assisting others facing similar challenges. Shila Rashid presented on eating disorders and how these are gendered and shaped by family, society, religion and our own perceptions. The way that mental and physical health are intertwined came through in their presentations, and that of Wangda Dorji, reminding delegates of the importance of seeing sexual and reproductive health in a complete way.
6. A focus on disability
“In normative society there is a conspiracy of silence about the sexuality of people with disabilities. It is thought that you are either asexual or hypersexual and not prioritised even among advocates for disability rights.” –Anita Ghai
The conference had a strong focus on disability not just in terms of exclusion (how disabled people are infantilised and their needs, desires and inputs are considered unimportant) but also on disability as a knowledge systems which can provide vital insights for those working on sexual and reproductive health. We learned how disability is heterogenous – India has 21 different categories of disability – if we were to build our sexual and reproductive health education system around catering to all students regardless of (dis)ability it would provide a more imaginative starting point for our discussions of love, sex and romance.
At the conference we heard from a range of implementing organisations about how they were responding to some of the contemporary challenges raised above.
Debarati Halder gave an overview of the subject of cyber-bullying, a more common phenomenon as rates of internet use and connectivity are rising. This has implications for regulation of online spaces but also young people’s self-image and mental health. Others spoke of the rise in young people accessing information about sexual and reproductive health online in lieu of decent sex education. Pornography is readily available in Bangladesh and is one way that young people learn about their bodies and sexuality. In this there is a challenge in distinguishing accurate from inaccurate information. One young person explicitly asked how young people can navigate ‘fake news’ online.
To provide accurate information we heard that initiatives like Digital Sister for Urban Youth are creating platforms which seek to understand how urban youth access sexual and reproductive health information and develop communication tools to meet their needs. Interestingly, the Digital Sister project had feedback from young people that they should also spread messages through offline channels. Young people were concerned that their parents had insufficient access to information and inaccurate beliefs and that online sources would not meet their needs. This speaks to the need to integrate online and offline spaces in ways which are targeted to the needs of users.
Echoing Jeroen Steeghs’s speech at the conference, it is important that implementers take these issues on board and do not leave them to parents, many of whom are ill equipped and lack information, to deal with. Adolescents have sexual needs, fall in love and feel attraction, explore and develop their sexual identity. They often have to navigate incorrect and distorted sources of information in the process, including from censored or abstinence-based sexual and reproductive health education in schools. More guidance is becoming available on sexual and reproductive health programming and sexuality education such as the recent UNESCO publication on international best practices. However, despite overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sexuality education works there are barriers to its implementation such as the embarrassment of teachers and parents in taking this forward. Similarly, existing legal frameworks can simultaneously protect young people from abuse while constraining access to information and justice, and these need to be critically considered.
Comprehensive sexuality and sexual and reproductive health education prepares and empowers young people to take control and make informed decisions. It can be transformative – and help to build a fair and equitable society by overcoming issues like colourism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, sizeism, marriage normativity and other forms of discriminatory practice. It is the responsibility of those working on policy and interventions to take the concerns of young people seriously and ensure that they are at the forefront of shaping the response.
This blog was written by Kate Hawkins, Pamoja Communications Ltd/REACHOUT Consortium.
The Gender and SRH Conference for Young Adults 2018 was funded by NUFFIC and implemented through a partnership between BRAC JPGSPH, RHSTEP and NIPORT.
This Reader brings together case studies from the small grants programme. These studies explore some of the core spheres of health systems research: care-seeking; financing and contracting; governance; human resources; and service delivery with a gender lens. Each case study in this Reader demonstrates the importance of using a gender analysis in health systems research. This analysis enabled the researchers to explore new ways of looking at the world around them, it built new skills, and it led to some unexpected findings. It also demonstrates how such an approach can be applied in practice. We hope that this Reader will be of interest to established health systems researchers who are interested in how they can integrate gender into their work. It could also be a tool used in capacity development interventions or in university teaching courses to prompt learners to consider the usefulness of a gendered approach or to think through how to apply theoretical concepts of gender, intersectionality and ethics in practice.
By Rosemary Morgan and Kate Hawkins