Women & Gender

"Women lead with... her rights""Women lead with... her rights"

A version of this post originally appeared on the LMGforHealth.org blog.

(Photos by Sarah Lindsay, Rachel Hassinger, Willow Gerber, and Barbara Ayotte / MSH)

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Photo credit: Warren Zelman

The May issue of the MSH Global Health Impact newsletter (subscribe) features stories on gender equity, UHC, and family planning including:

A girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo {Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Photo credit: Warren Zelman

All involved with women’s health and gender wish that access to quality health care for women and girls was easy to achieve at scale. But the attitudes and expectations of many societies limit women’s and girls’ access to resources and skills associated with better health. And health-related vulnerabilities and poor outcomes for women and girls have social and financial costs that hamper the consistency and quality of available health services. 

To advocate for universal health coverage (UHC), and help countries achieve this worthy goal, health leaders, managers, and those who govern must work to end social biases and gender-based discrimination--whether deliberate or unintended. 

Among other things, health leaders must support the hiring and promotion of women; advocate for gender-sensitive employment and working conditions; help to reduce women’s out-of-pocket healthcare payments (that are generally higher than men’s due in part to the high costs of newborn deliveries and reproductive health services); adjust clinic hours to accommodate women and girls’ mobility constraints; and consider how even unexpected health provider bias can make female clients hesitate to seek the services they need in a timely fashion. 

{Photo credit: Dominic Chavez}Photo credit: Dominic Chavez

(This post has also appeared on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists and on the blog of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition.)

Our MSH colleague Lucy Sakala was an HIV counselor in Malawi. She worked with clients who were receiving HIV tests. When clients were diagnosed HIV positive, many were eligible for treatment and could begin antiretroviral therapy. HIV care had become available in Malawi because of transformative efforts to reduce ARV prices and increase their availability, such as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

In a couple of days, thousands of decision-makers, leaders, advocates, health professionals, media, and more will gather to focus on our most valuable investment: women and girls.

We are honored to be a Gold Sponsor and Advisory Group member of Women Deliver 2013. Over 30 staff members representing 10 countries will participate in the conference by speaking, moderating, leading, and learning together with the 5,000 attendees in Kuala Lumpur.

For over 40 years, MSH has worked shoulder-to-shoulder in partnership with over 150 countries---currently in over 65---saving lives and improving the health of women, girls, men, and boys. Our programs empower women; sensitize men; and integrate maternal, newborn, and child health, family planning and reproductive health, and HIV & AIDS services to improve access to quality care and, ultimately, save lives.

 {Photo Credit: Abel Helebo/MSH.}Silenat with her three-year-old child, her husband Yirga, and Tadele, a TB focal person at the Keraniyo Health Center.Photo Credit: Abel Helebo/MSH.

Silenat Yihune, a 40-year-old woman, mother, and housewife, lives in a remote region of Huletejuenesie District, Ethiopia, which is approximately 20 kilometers from the closest health facility. For nine months Silenat suffered from a cough, chest pain, fever, and weight loss, but was unable to receive treatment. As is common among Ethiopian families, Silenat was economically dependent upon her husband. He refused to pay for her travel to the distant health facility. Several months later, Silenat’s husband, Yirga, started to show similar symptoms and visited the Keraniyo Health Center, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).

Keraniyo Health Center is one of the health facilities in Huletejunesie district supported by the PEPFAR-funded, USAID project, Help Ethiopia Address Low TB Performance (HEAL TB), led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

Celia Tusiime Kakande. {Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

For most of my life, women in Uganda---as in most countries---were treated as inferior to men. Girls were less likely to be educated than their brothers, and had little control over the direction of their lives. Many girls grew up being told how to act, eat, and talk; many women were regarded as little more than domestic caregivers. However, in 1986 the ruling government radically changed the dynamics of Ugandan women in global development and their participation in decision-making at all levels of government. This International Women’s Day we, in Uganda, are celebrating this transformation with a theme of “connecting girls, inspiring futures,” and wishing women around the world similar progress and success.

Women Lead: Government

Women in Uganda now hold more leadership positions than ever before—35 percent of the seats in Parliament are now occupied by women, and our Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Health are women. The introduction of universal primary education has allowed more girls to begin their schooling, and affirmative action at the university level has provided more women the opportunity to realize their dreams for fulfilling professional careers.

Integrating the Leadership Development Program into Guyana's national nursing school training (watch video): Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention, phase two (GHARP II), a PEPFAR-funded and USAID-supported project.

Developing Strong Health Leaders Saves Lives, the newest edition of MSH's Global Health Impact e-newsletter (subscribe), features:

Mary Ngari, Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Medical Services, addresses conference attendees on the first day. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

In my 35 years working in international health, I've attended hundreds of conferences. Conferences are opportunities to exchange ideas and form connections. They’re often fascinating. But once in a while a conference itself can be a pivotal moment. A great example was last year’s International AIDS Conference, the first held in the United States after President Obama finally lifted the longstanding travel ban against foreigners living with HIV.

And recently, people around MSH, and throughout the Kenya health community, have been talking about Kenya’s First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance. The conference, held in early February, demonstrated the long-term vision of the Kenyans who are running the health system. These leaders understand the value of training health systems managers to improve the quality of service delivery.

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