Advancing women’s leadership and gender equity to achieve the SDGs

The reversals are exacerbated by COVID-19 and other compounding crises such as the growing incidence of conflict and the climate emergency.

They come at a time when the world is just beginning to see decades of hard-earned work and effort pay off, with more girls in school, falling maternal mortality rates and fewer marriages and births. child deaths.

The United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), currently underway in New York, is a critical opportunity to reflect on progress made to date and agree on a way forward to address the significant risks we face. confronted mid-term.

On Wednesday, an official side event at the HLPF, Choice, Voice and Empowerment: Women’s Political Leadership for Health in a Fragile World was organized by PMNCH, Women in Global Health, UHC2030 and Global Health 50/50, and hosted by the government of Estonia.

It brought together global policy makers, government officials, business leaders, healthcare providers, young people and community representatives from around the world.

Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, said: “At a time when deepening crises are rolling back previous progress in empowering women and health of communities, the war is also being waged against the human rights of women and girls.”

She added: “We need urgent and transformative action to reverse these worrying trends. Women must have both a seat and a voice at decision-making tables. To achieve the vision of leaving no one behind in development, societies must go beyond lip service and implement rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches to achieve equality, resilience and sustainability.

UHC2030 Steering Committee Co-Chair Gabriela Cuevas Barron said, “Health is a right, not a privilege. This requires political will and leadership. But women must have a say in health systems that impact their health and well-being. Yes, they only have 25% of seats in parliaments and hold 25% of leadership positions in global health. The rules must be changed to get out of this uneven reality.

Global Health 50/50 co-directors Professor Sarah Hawkes and Professor Kent Buse said: “The collective failure to achieve equality in global health is inextricably linked to the failure to achieve equality in voice, representation and inclusion at the top. We urgently need feminist leaders, especially women and other underrepresented groups, to push for health rights, equity and gender equality.

They highlighted the need for a strong accountability system to ensure that promises made are promises kept so that the Global Health 50/50 target is met.

Dr Magda Robalo, Global Chief Executive of Women in Global Health, said: “Even before the pandemic, gender inequality was entrenched in the global health workforce, with women clustered into high-status sectors and jobs. inferior, marginalized in leadership and frequently subjected to violence and harassment. . Although women are the majority of health workers, they occupy only 25% of decision-making roles in the field of health, and women in countries of the South are particularly marginalized.

Kersti Kaljulaid, former President of Estonia and Global Advocate to the UN Secretary-General for Every Woman, Every Child, said: “When we recognize women’s contributions; when we pay women fairly for the work they do; when we show the inherent value and necessity of women to society. The solutions are complex, but let us commit to a gender lens that includes the participation of women – especially young women and girls – working in partnerships and communities, governments, businesses and NGOs towards our common goals .

Women and girls make up half of the world’s population, but their full potential remains largely untapped.

They are too often victims of sexual or physical abuse and exploitation, threatened by harmful traditions and practices, deprived of the right to education and health care, victims of discrimination in employment and often deterred from participating political processes, including voting.

Globally, 143 countries legally guarantee equality between men and women. But in practice, gender inequalities persist in most parts of the world and, in many cases, are receding even further.

Women are not allocated seats at decision-making tables in proportion to their numbers. According to UN Women, as of September 1, 2021, 26 women were heads of state or government in 24 countries.

The pervasive leadership gap between women and men can only be closed by addressing systemic barriers to women’s advancement.

This is particularly important as emerging evidence from the pandemic shows that women-led countries have generally fared better in terms of outcomes during COVID-19 through instituting proactive and coordinated policy responses.

Some 11 million girls may not return to school this year due to the unprecedented disruption to education caused by COVID-19.

This not only threatens decades of progress towards gender equality, but also puts girls everywhere at risk of teenage pregnancy, early and forced marriage and violence.

Mara R. Wilmoth