Women must take expanded roles in health sector governance

Jim Rice

Former LMG Project Director

In our recent Roundtable with the Society for International Development Washington Chapter, panel of respected experts on smarter governance concluded that it is essential to have more women involved in all types of governing bodies for health, whether at provincial, national, or international levels in both the public sector and civil society organizations.

There is also need for bolder actions to better engage and support more women as they take their rightful roles in governing bodies of health services organizations. Some of those actions must be aimed toward removing barriers to their effective engagement, such as:

  1. Removing attitudes among men, women, girls and boys that women do not have a right to serve in governance and leadership roles, or that they do not have the capability to serve wisely. We can help address this bias by advocating for legislative and regulatory requirements for women’s participation in governing bodies, and in their various task forces, councils and committees. We must also find and celebrate the stories of men and women supportive of the good work of women in roles from parliaments to hospitals as role models.
  2. Removing organizational bias about equal pay for equal work, as well as governance and workplace opportunities free of harassment and discrimination by institutionalizing what panelist Laili Irani, Senior Policy Analyst at Population Reference Bureau, observes is the machinery of gender equity, such as Gender Rights Directorates in Ministries of Health.
  3. Removing distractions and disruptions to serve in governing bodies by establishing governing work at times and places conducive to expanded women participation, and supporting men to share in household chores, child rearing, and transportation in order to enable and empower women to take active leadership roles in governing bodies.
  4. Removing biases about the effectiveness of women decision makers in governance by investing in capacity development training and materials that build their confidence, competence and comfort mastering governance practices. These investments should include pre- and in-service training in health sciences schools, virtual learning opportunities, harnessing cell phones for tips on good governance, special orientation programming to smart governance practices, and participation in new forms of mentoring and coaching.
  5. Removing attitudes among girls that they cannot have “careers of impact” in health services leadership and governance by investing in expanded early education in schools for girls and boys, as well as fathers and mothers taking the children to work as they participate in governing bodies at all levels of the health sector. See for example http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/girl-child

My bias is that with more women in governance roles and work, there is greater potential that good governance will more effectively be "The Big Enabler" of those who deliver, manage and lead health services organizations. That is, smarter governing body decisions are more likely focused on interventions that can work and yield sustainable gains in protecting, promoting and restoring health for communities and for vulnerable populations with women not only at the table, but with their voices heard, amplified, and respected at these tables.

We need more conversations and action to clarify our "Theory of Change" and logic models that support our assertions about the unique value women bring into the governance processes of health systems in low resourced countries.

This value has evolved from their wisdom forged from their central roles as the principal decision makers, recipients and providers of health services. They know what will work and not work. Women know the value of investing wisely for stronger health systems access and results, and the risks of system failures in tangible human and financial terms.  They also have leadership styles that can support smarter governing decision making processes.

What do you think? How can we encourage expanded capacity development for youth leaders, young men and women, that see the value of active women and girls engagement in governance work for health in low resourced countries? Let us know on Twitter @LMGforHealth

Photo: Panelist Laili Irani of Population Reference Bureau , Chantal Uwimana of Transparency International, and Jodi Charles of USAID at the Roundtable: Sustainable Governance: From Rhetoric to Action: Engaging Women as a Means for Stronger Health Systems and Greater Health Outcomes

Dr. Jim Rice is the Project Director for the Leadership, Management & Governance Project. 

This is a wonderful motivational topic indeed. I think if young people are groomed well, especially girl-child, they will be able to be good leaders in their future endeavor. Hence it is imperative to involve them at the young age, when it comes to decision-making and problem solving in health related leadership. The issue of succession in health leadership is not taking priority; hence we see inequality in many sphere of health leadership. Well done Dr. Jim I strongly agree that these biases need to be eradicated and efforts must be put in capacity building.