gender equity

{Marian W. Wentworth visits with health workers during a trip to Uganda in 2017. Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Marian W. Wentworth visits with health workers during a trip to Uganda in 2017. Photo credit: Warren Zelman

I began my career in the private sector almost always as the only woman in the room. Like many women of my generation, I experienced the kind of casual sexism that for too long was considered acceptable. But I also experienced firsthand more abusive forms of discrimination.  As I moved up in the organization, I began to see how sexism affected other women around me. I remember reviewing male and female candidates who were being assessed for readiness for promotion and noticing a distinct trend: The female candidates were assessed on their achievements; the male candidates on their potential. This situation worsened as candidates were actually selected for roles. Average achieving, “high potential” male candidates were being promoted over women who had tangible track records of accomplishments. While the trend was obvious, the solutions were not. We tried a series of different ways to shift this trend in our organization, but none produced quick results.  How we assess potential — and in whom — is but one example of the kind of systemic sexism that forces women to work harder to achieve professional success, and why some of us find it too much to fight.

{Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo/MSH Nigeria}Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo/MSH Nigeria

I am a woman. I am a Nigerian. I am a mother. I am a leader. And, I am a daughter. As the Nigerian country representative, I guide Management Sciences for Health (MSH)’s efforts to ensure the people of my country have access to quality health services. Indeed, I am many things. Before all else:

I am a woman of Nigeria.

The Girl Child in Nigeria

From the beginning, our girl children are at a disadvantage.

Our culture (like many are) is strongly patriarchal. The boy child is given higher status than the girl child. If a family has to choose, the boy child is the first to go to school. The girl child is the first to be dropped from school.

No matter how young she is, the girl child feels that it is her responsibility to care for her siblings. She is expected to take on added responsibilities and earn money to keep the other children. This pressure frequently leads to early sexual activity, transactional sex, and sex with older men-- increasing her risk of getting HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections.

Then Boko Haram came to the North East Zone of Nigeria. They take our girls away. They abuse them. They rape them. They marry them off to older men.

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman, Democratic Republic of the Congo.}Photo credit: Warren Zelman, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For over four decades, MSH has promoted equal access to healthcare for women and girls in more than 135 countries, as we work toward our vision of "a world where everyone has the opportunity for a healthy life." Health for all is a human right, and we believe strengthening health systems within a gender framework can help achieve this vision.

Gender shapes the ways in which health systems are planned, delivered, and experienced by beneficiaries and providers. To meet the specific health needs of women and girls, and to address gender within the health workforce, gender must be mainstreamed globally within and throughout health systems. What does that mean? Transforming the framework of health systems from being gender neutral (not taking the interests, needs, priorities, and contributions of different genders into account)—to being gender equitable (taking into account the interests, needs, priorities, and contributions of all).

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