Southeast Asia inching closer to the 50%; No WHA had more than 30% women chief delegates, finds study
Delegations of World Health Assembly (WHA) do not have enough represention despite women making up 70-75 per cent of the healthcare workforce. Several countries may take a century on an estimate to reach equal representation, according to a study.
The ratio is skewed in favour of men when looking at leadership roles or higher-wage healthcare occupations, an October study published in journal BMJ Global Health found. Bangladesh, Iran, Central African Republic, Kuwait and Afghanistan could take a 100 years to achieve 50% representation of women.
The paper analysed statistics from 10,944 WHA delegations and 75,815 delegation members over the 74 years since the body’s inception in 1948. Men ominated 89.2 per cent of the delegation while no WHA had more than 30 per cent of women chief delegates, it found.
The paper said:
Despite commitments to gender equality in leadership, women remain gravely under-represented in global health governance. An intersectional approach to representation in global health governance, which prioritises equity in participation beyond gender, can enable transformative policymaking that fosters transparent, accountable and just health systems.
Geographies and socio-economic conditions play a major role in gender parity, the study said. In the last decade, the American and the European regions achieved gender parity, while the growth in the African region has remained stagnant at 25-30 per cent for the past two decades.
Eastern Mediterranean Region has recorded significant improvements but is just about touching 25 per cent of women representation, while southeast Asia is inching closer to the 50 per cent mark.
“This is likely the result of different prolonged and multifaceted context-specific social, cultural and institutional factors that inhibit meaningful, equitable participation within different countries,” the paper argued.
In fact, the historical analysis shows southeast Asia had the best gender parity in 1950, still at an abysmal less than 25 per cent, and has since trickled down to the fourth position, trailing very closely behind the Western Pacific.
The trend is mirrored when analysing the data based on income groups — with lower-middle income countries having better women representation than high-income and upper-middle income countries when the WHA was first established.
Percentage of women in World Health Assembly delegations. Source: BMJ Global Health
Estimates based on gender parity between 2010-2019 revealed countries in the eastern Mediterranean region will take nearly 80 years to reach gender parity in WHA delegation. In comparison, African and southeast Asian countries will take some 30 years to achieve the same goal.
Western Pacific nations will take shy of two decades to achieve 50 per cent women representation. Bangladesh, Iran, the Central African Republic, Kuwait and Afghanistan are among the countries which will take 100 years to achieve gender parity.
The Beijing Platform Action Plan, adopted in 1995, played a critical role in ensuring gender equality by including ‘Women in power and decision-making’ in its 12 focus areas where urgency is required. The goal was to achieve 30 per cent of women’s representation in decision-making roles.
The following years showed improvement on this front, with Gro Harlem Brundtland becoming the first woman director-general of WHO in 1998.
Policy implications of these findings have two key facets — what must the WHO do and what must Member States do. The former argues for the global health body strengthening its strategies to ensure gender parity. For instance, introducing gender quotas.
Beyond that, “policies on inclusive leadership should consider more than representation in numbers, but consider the entire enabling environment for the inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives using an intersectional approach to global health decision-making and policy,” the paper emphasised.
The paper outlines the key responsibilities of member states, including introducing structural and systemic interventions.
For instance, “leadership grants, formal policies to safeguard women in the workplace and peer-training and mentorship opportunities could facilitate the meaningful participation in decision-making and leadership roles.”
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