International Gender Champions Health Impact group lunched with members of the WHO Executive Board to speak about gender equality.
To the Members of the WHO Executive Board and Governing Bodies, as members of the global health community, we are writing to highlight the current leadership gap in global health and to call upon the WHO and its Member States to take decisive steps to achieve gender parity.
Women are under-represented across the WHO political space—just over one out of four of member state Chief Delegates to the World Health Assembly (WHA) and Ministers of Health are women (Women in Global Health, unpublished) and only three out of the ten members of the WHO Director-General's office are women.1 When broken down by region the percentage of women Chief Delegates ranges from 5% to 31%. Although there has been some improvement in the past 10 years—from 16% women Chief Delegates in 2005 to 23% women Chief Delegates in 2015—change has been slow (Women in Global Health, unpublished). In addition, in the Eastern Mediterranean Region there has been a reduction in the proportion of Chief Delegetes who are women, from 10% in 2005 to 5% in 2015. These trends are striking, particularly when contrasted with the fact that in some countries women make up 75% of the health workforce.2
Progress is also slow in the WHO secretariat. By the end of 2015, 42% of staff members in the professional and higher categories were women.3 In addition, the WHO secretariat has yet to achieve their target of 60% women as new recruits, with women only representing 52·4% of new recruits.3The first commitment to increase the proportion of women was set in 1981 (WHA 34.15 resolution) and in 1997 (WHA 50.16 resolution) a target of 50% was set for the representation of women in professional categories of WHO and for new appointments across several areas.
Although the global health community has already committed itself to gender parity, targets are not being met and progress needs to be quickened. All United Nations (UN) agencies set targets to achieve gender parity by 2017 through the UN System-Wide Action Plan (SWAP).4 WHO is not expected to reach gender parity until 2022.3 The UN Secretary-General has made clear commitments to gender parity in leadership across the UN system. We believe it is time for the next WHO Director-General to fully realise gender equality at the WHO by committing to gender parity, filling senior positions accordingly and setting goals for gender parity and reporting regularly on the progress made. We also believe that Member States should support and sign on to the Call to Action for Gender Equality in Global Health on the occasion of the 140th session of the WHO Executive Board.
We call on WHO and its Member States to promote: gender equality in leadership positions of WHO; the meaningful engagement of men and women in the technical programmes of WHO; and active monitoring, data generation, and the adoption of evidence-based best practices that promote gender parity and equality in health governance across WHO and in Member States.
We commit to leading by example by: proposing reforms to the WHO secretariat that will institute specific measures to achieve gender parity in their top leadership; ensuring equal representation of both women and men in our delegations to the World Health Assembly and WHO Executive Board meetings and regional governance meetings; and maintaining gender parity in the organisation of all panels and events that we convene during the WHA and other high level international and regional global health events.
KT had a short-term agreement for performance of work (APW) with the WHO in 2016. The APW was for a subject unrelated to the content of this letter. RD and IK declare no competing interests.
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