Women Leaders in Global Health Conference 2018

The Women Leaders in Global Health Conference was born from frustration many women working in global health felt when seeing the lack of women and diverse leadership in their field.

Women make up 70% of global health force but hold just 30% of leadership positions, and many felt the urge to direct an international spotlight on the matter.

This urge became a reality in October 2017 with the 1st WLGH Conference, hosted at Stanford University.

This year, the 2nd Conference was hosted in the UK by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Longer and richer in content, there were 2 days of panel discussions and vibrant exchange among women – and men – who work in different areas of global health.

Credit: @drawingchange

One of the main figures of this year’s conference was the former Minister of Health of Peru, Dr Patty J. Garcia. Patty is a scientist and an expert in Public Health who decided to take a new leadership position when the Prime Minister of Peru, Pedro P. Kuczynski, called her to offer her one of the most important roles in the country.

She worked within the government of Peru from July 2016 to September 2017, achieving important public health goals such as access to contraceptives for adolescent girls, availability of emergency contraception and rise in vaccination coverage.

Credit: Giorgia Dalla Libera Marchiori

She said that she would have never imagined she would be involved in politics, and even less to become a minister, but that “we need to take opportunities as women”. She took the lead and decided she would use her position to make the changes Peru needed.

Sometimes you are invited to the table and you just have to sit down and get to work. Most of the time, however, you need to open your folding chair and make space for yourself at the table. If no one makes space for your folding chair – “you sit on the table”, suggests Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Chief Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Women have great expertise, but too often don’t believe in themselves, because the patriarchal society we live in has taught us to look down, apologize and not be a ‘bi**ch’. Women and men need to rethink gender roles and move towards an equal society, where gender, place of birth, sexual orientation or disability will not count anymore, only competence will. 

Around 100 speakers participated in this year’s conference, bringing different perspectives which animated the discussion in so many ways. Dr Ola Abu Alghaib, Director of Global Influencing and Research at Leonard Cheshire Disability, told the audience of her personal experience with disability and finding her leadership role as a person with disability.

Her life is a proof of resilience. She has achieved what she wanted, including doing a job she is passionate about and having her own family. Many told her that as a disabled woman she would not be able to reach those goals, but she decided early on to lead her life in the direction she wanted. Women with disabilities need to be part of the conversation, Ola says, because there is no equity if we, as women, are the first to exclude some of us from the running.

Every woman can be a leader.

This is the philosophy behind one of the best universities in the African continent, the Ahfad University in Sudan. Professor Nafisa M. Bedri explained how their university, founded originally as a girls school by her grandfather, Babiker Bedri, aims to form future women leaders in Sudan.

Investing in women’s education and shaping women’s roles in society is challenging, because of cultural and religious beliefs, but the benefits are tangible and impact our entire society. 

One concept shared loudly and proudly at the end of this gathering was well summarized by Ayoade: “my ceiling has to be your floor”. This means that whatever we do, it has to create better opportunities and a world free from inequities for the generations to come, for all the girls who are dreaming big and should never have their wings cut off.

See you all next year in Rwanda for WLGH 3.0!

In the meantime, find your opportunity to become a leader in your group, community, work place, country. Don’t wait, act. And while doing it, “ensure that your significant other (whether a woman or a man) is a feminist” – Professor Sarah Hawkes, Co-Director of Global Health 50/50.

World Peace Requires the Eradication of Male Dominance

We live in a world dominated by men, characterized by patriarchal structures and a dangerous macho culture.

In this era of Donald Trump, who rules the largest country in the Western world with his perceived superiority and recklessness, condoning sexual and racial violence; Kim Jong-un, who controls his country with an iron fist, with inhumane policies and practices, and threatens the world with nuclear attacks; Vladimir Putin, who is often depicted half-naked with a gold chain displaying his muscles, continues to rule a country without consideration of all people’s human rights; Xi Jinping, who is leading the Chinese quest of economic world domination; Jacob Zuma, the polygamist South African leader who has faced rape charges and corruption allegations; and Nicolas Maduro, who is leading a country of turmoil, stripping it of democratic institutions and people’s freedom – this world does not feel like a safe place.

Our world today is not a peaceful place.

In 2015, United Nations Member States, run by 193 world leaders, agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these goals are reached, we would see an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. These goals are ambitious. Some say they are unrealistic, and some say they are doable – if we work together. These goals are very much interlinked and they cannot be reached without working towards a peaceful world. Goal 16 specifies the world leaders’ ambition to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

In order for us to meet these goals, collaboration is a must – yet, many of the world’s most powerful leaders seem to be unable to do just that. Furthermore, the men I listed above are a few of the world leaders who are enabling harmful environments that discriminate against girls and women, leading to impunity of the attacks of gender based violence in most parts of the world. Many of these men are neglecting the harmful effects of climate change. And a few of these men are threatening world peace in it’s totality.

For far too many people around the world, peace is not a given.

In 2015 the world was met by a storm of humanitarian emergencies, with the number of people displaced at an all time high – with new political and natural disasters on the rise today. It feels like we have jumped back to the Cold War, with a threat of a nuclear war hanging over our heads. The trends of closing borders is threatening people’s lives as they seek refuge and safety and the acts of terrorism continuously bombard our news feeds. Violence is also a threat to the lives of girls and women daily, as gender based violence, including domestic violence, is a global epidemic.

The culture of male dominance is a threat to our security and a threat to peace.

For us to meet the Global Goals and for us to see an end to war and violence, we need more women leaders in politics around the world and we need more politicians who listen to women and girls. Thankfully the grassroots, national and global movements for equality and peace are on the rise – and you can be a part of them.

Girls’ Globe works to create a sustainable world, free from any discrimination, inequality and violence, enabling all girls and women to live up to their fullest potential, in peace and solidarity – by creating a platform for the voices of girls and women to be heard. We need your help to continue to keep our work going.

Donate to Girls’ Globe today! 

Women Leading Change

By Solange Ipmanoyimana

Rwanda is ranked among the countries with the fastest growing rate of economic development worldwide – but it hasn’t always been this way.

Looking back at my childhood, I grew up observing gender inequalities in my community. In the rural areas women were the ones to spend more hours working on the farms, doing chores, and preparing food for the family. Men, on the other hand, were expected to work morning hours and spend the afternoon resting and taking local brews. Though it wasn’t exactly the same in the urban areas, the circumstances weren’t that much different because the women still did all the work at home while the men were in bars. Though women were educated, they would follow the norms of gender. We were taught never to speak in the presence of men or question a man’s judgment. Women were totally dependent on men’s ideas and decisions. Even if women worked many hours with barely any time to rest, they weren’t allowed to make any decisions, including the small ones like buying clothes for themselves.

The denial of women’s independence limited their inner potential, which reduced the positive impact they could have on the country’s development. Like the Kinyarwanda saying goes, “umutwe umwe ntiwigira”(two heads are better than one). Rwanda’s development demonstrates the progress that can be made when women are partners in building a country. Twenty years after women were first encouraged to participate more fully in society, Rwanda’s GDP has more than doubled and women occupy 64% of Rwandan lower parliament seats. Before the current regime, women could not serve as mayors but now they are governing the provinces, districts, and sectors, in large part because our leaders acknowledge and welcome women’s contributions.

Yet even though women’s leadership has been achieved in higher-level public institutions, women occupy only 8% of leadership seats at the local level. This gap represents a significant challenge but also an incredible opportunity for the women of Rwanda.

Resonate has recognized this challenge and wants to build leadership among Rwandan women at all levels to close the gender gap. In cooperation with other organizations that support women and girls, Resonate uses a training program that uses personal storytelling to build self-confidence and unlock leadership potential. Every day at work, I am fortunate to serve the younger generation of future mothers and community leaders who will ensure their sons and daughters are educated equally, paving the way for gender equality.

During our Storytelling for Leadership workshops, we work with women to identify times in their lives when they have already been change makers, and help them recognize what they are capable of achieving. After this short training we have seen a 30% increase in our participant’s self-confidence, comfort speaking publicly, and their desire and ability to lead a team, group, or project.

We are currently developing a network of leaders that supports women to set goals and begin working on a community project of their choice. This network will provide critical skills and a group of supportive peers to help guide them through the process so that they can truly demonstrate their potential as leaders and agents of change.

I am working for Resonate because I believe that women’s voices are important. Although the status of women in Rwandan society has begun to change, more remains to be done to achieve gender equality. From my life experience, I have learned to make my own decisions and I have worked hard to get an education. I always aim high and give my best in everything I do. As a mother, I wish to inspire my daughter through my actions to believe that she can achieve her goals. My wish isn’t only for her, but for every child in our community. Every morning, I wake up energized to help women and girls believe in themselves and take on community leadership roles. They are the key to Rwanda’s successful future.

Nepal Earthquake: A Personal Reflection

Post Written by: Reeti, a Women LEAD young woman leader. The following are excerpts from Reeti’s personal blog The Black Caterpillar. Reeti reflects on the current situation in Nepal and the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. 

Reflection, Day 1 (Sunday, April 26th): 

Acouple of years ago I’d written a short story and it began like this:

I was standing there, strayed in the street, unnoticed amidst the crowd. My eyes were searching for something and someone. I fell down. Probably someone had pushed me. I tried to stand but somebody pushed me again so I fell really hard on the street once more. Cursing the fellow who pushed me, I finally stood up. I stretched and looked as far as I could but my family was nowhere to be seen. I did not know what to do. My eyes were wet, my heart was beating loud, my legs shaking. I did not know whether it was from nervousness or due to the shaking of the earth. Yes, the ground was literally shaking. Our city was hit by an earthquake. Everyone was running here and there, pushing every individual like bowling balls hitting pins. I was standing on the street like a lifeless statue. All the houses were collapsing. The people were shouting and children were crying. The street was filled with chaos.

I never imagined this piece of fiction would turn into a reality. Yesterday, Nepal was hit by a 7.9 Richter scale of earthquake and the aftershocks have still not ceased though it’s been more than 18 hours. There have been more than 25 aftershocks and the country is in great chaos.

At noon on Saturday when the earth started shaking vigorously, I was at Patan Durbar Square, a place known for culture assets and listed as UNESCO world heritage site. I held a bench cemented in the ground and within seconds watched my country’s asset turn into dust. Everything started collapsing in front of my eyes. I  thought it was the last day of my life. The scene was horrible and terrifying. People started screaming and crying. Buildings started collapsing and there was chaos all across Kathmandu.

I was there to meet a friend but we could not meet and I returned back with my dad. The motorbike ride from Patan to Jawalakhel was the scariest ride where I watched the destruction in the city first hand.

Photo Credit: Reeti

Many cultural sites have been damaged and 1,500 people have died with the death toll still rising as the ruins are being cleaned. The aftershocks have not stopped and there are chances of a larger earthquake occurring within 48 hours. My family and I are camping with many others outside for the night. We prayed for the rain not to pour down because everyone would be in distress.

The night was spent with sleeplessness, earthquakes and mosquito bites. And yes, gentle showers of rain for a couple of minutes. Ambulance sirens, anxious cries and the sudden angry roar of the earth are heard and felt frequently. Well for now, my friends and family are fine and though there has been destruction done to their physical infrastructures, no harm has been done to their health. So all we can do is stay put and pray for earthquakes to end.

Reflection, Day 2 (Monday, April 27th):

We have now had more than 80 aftershocks and it still has not ended. We are being told it will continue for 72 hours. As I am writing this, we have already experienced 2-3 more aftershocks measuring at 6.6 on the Richter scale. Now, after being hit many times, the gentle shakes do not even matter. We are camping outside in a field. The sun is extremely scorching and it is difficult for us. Yesterday night it rained heavily. We spent the night shivering and huddled together. We have had two sleepless nights and I do not know how many more are to come!

Photo Credit: Reeti

I do not know what to say about this week. I am in utter shock. I have been hearing news about people dying, some known while others unknown.  I realize the worth of human life and understand anything can happen anytime.

Who would have thought this can happen to us?

I remember yesterday morning dancing to party songs and hula hooping, without any care in the world. Only a few hours later, I had left the house with such excitement of showing my friend around Patan Durbar Square. Who knew I would have to hold onto a bench and shake vigorously watching the entire thing turn into dust?

There have been many realizations about being prepared for natural calamity. I do not know about other realizations as my mind is really not working well and as there have been sleepless nights full of fear. Please pray for Nepal and if you want to help, there are links to my previous blog post. I will be updating soon when the internet is working well.

Women LEAD is committed to supporting our community in Kathmandu as they identify and respond in real time to their own communities’ most pressing needs. We ask for your support as we provide our staff and the 100 young women we’ve trained and mentored with the resources they need to effectively respond to this disaster. All funds donated to the “Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction Efforts” option under the list of programs will go directly to our leaders and the projects they choose to run to help their communities in this difficult time. We will need additional core funding as prices in Nepal rise and as we coordinate these efforts. If you wish to support our operations, select “Women LEAD” instead. 

Support Women LEAD Nepal’s Global Giving campaign