Women in Leadership – Global Health Series: An introduction from the curator
by Florence Kinder
Strong and representative leadership in Global Health ventures is vital, both from national and international staff. In order to promote sustainable global health improvement, it is essential, that leadership, particularly from international staff is flexible, adaptable and not overbearing. But also, that our leaders represent and give voice to genders equally and without prejudice.
When considering expert leadership, consider it as a 2 way exchange – presenting ourselves both as students and teachers, is when we can begin to create sustainable, respectful and mutually beneficial partnerships. And let us also remember the importance of cultural sensitivity, humility and the fundamental of sustainability – local empowerment.
But alongside the overarching need for local empowerment, we must also seek to empower our female leaders. In 2019, the World Health Organisation published their report ‘Delivered by Women, Led by Men’, which reported that despite making up more than 70% of the healthcare workforce, women still occupy less than 25% of influential leadership roles. (1) And when we start to look at Global Health leadership, the statistics highlight even greater disparity. The Global Health 50/50 review (2), reported that more than 70% of the sector’s leaders are men, despite women making up the majority of the workforce. The disparity is not just in gender either, more than 80% of leaders are from high-income countries with only 5% of leadership positions held by women from low and middle income countries.
Maybe deep down this is just another manifestation of the inequality women face in society. When you begin to explore the barriers, it is the same themes that reoccur. Research discusses sexual harassment, discouragement of pregnancy, the need to be close to home to raise children, disapproval of being ‘outspoken’, unequal pay and the list goes on. (3)
But what we do know from research, is the importance and power of female leaders, particularly in addressing the healthcare needs and inequities faced by women across the world. When women lead, the decisions and policies they support are often those that support women and children in their wider health – water, sanitation and education. (3, 4)
Global Health is filled with unlikely leaders, unconventional leadership and unique ways of doing things. But unfortunately, it is not filled with female leaders. I am hopeful in my generation – we will no longer need to speak of female leaders, instead just of leaders. But for now, as a young woman, future doctor and someone passionate about sustainable improvements to health and healthcare systems that serve the most vulnerable, I am a firm believer that to aspire to be leaders, we need to see people like us leading, we need mentors and opportunities to network. I am delighted to have curated this series, to give voice to some of those who support this belief. I hope it allows us to share, support and seek inspiration from some of the incredible women leading the way in Global Health.
Florence is currently a 4th year medical student at the University of Leeds. She is the HLA Blog Scholar for 20-21 and has curated the Women in Leadership – Global Health series. Twitter: @FlorenceRKinder