Creating Conditions to Allow Women to Move into Health Leadership

  • By: Belkis Giorgis, Ph.D.

Women health workers, marching for equality in Togo, West Africa.The Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project’s mandate to improve health outcomes provides opportunities to address gender equity and good governance in health systems. Addressing these two concepts simultaneously creates synergies that can bring about transformative changes in health systems. Gender equity is a fundamental right, and creating the conditions that allow more women to move into health leadership positions can translate into positive health outcomes for all—women and men, boys and girls.

To accelerate this process, health ministries and institutions must build their capacity to address gender-related issues that women leaders face and take action to address these challenges; the goal is to create a supportive environment and supportive policies that will systematically break down barriers to women moving into leadership, management, and governance roles.

Women are both the beneficiaries of health systems and major providers of health care;[1] the health sector employs significant numbers of women, and is perhaps the only formal sector (with the exception of education) where women have established a major presence. At the same time, women are concentrated in certain occupations and are poorly represented in management positions and at senior levels. Gender stereotypes, norms, and practices keep women health care workers in lower-end jobs.

LMG Definitions

Gender equity: Fairness in the distribution of responsibilities, resources, and power between women and men.

Good governance: Good or “smart” governance is a policy context that celebrates, enables, and empowers good working conditions for men and women leaders/managers to perform their work wisely and well. Good governance promotes openness, transparency, accountability, and participation of the governed in the decision-making process.

In many cases, the health system is a reflection of the overall cultural context in which women find themselves; they are often excluded from decision-making in other areas of their lives—from  the household level up to the highest levels of policymaking. Involving women in decision-making in all domains, including the creation of the policies and processesthat affect them will make it more likely that those policies will respond to the different needs of both women and men, and contribute to gender equality.[2]

By including gender as a critical focus, the LMG Project’s leadership, management, and governance activities address one of the most significant disparities negatively affecting health outcomes worldwide—gender inequity.  The strategies that the LMG Project uses to reduce gender disparity and increase the number of women in leadership, management, and governance roles in health systems include the following:

LMG Strategies that Create Opportunities for Women to Move into Leadership, Management and Governance Positions within Health Systems

  • Shift the perception of women as mere beneficiaries to include their role as providers of health care and as leaders within health systems
  • Increase awareness of the critical role gender plays in health systems
  • Strengthen governance structures to be more gender responsive and gender accountable
  • Build the capacity of health ministries and related institutions to address gender inequality in the health workforce
  • Establish coaching and mentoring programs for women leaders
  • Promote research and knowledge exchange on the role of women in the health workforce
  • Establish partnerships and carry out advocacy to promote women leaders

How is the LMG project helping women move into health leadership roles?

In Ethiopia, LMG is providing technical assistance to the Gender Directorate of the Ministry of Health to support its activities for mainstreaming[3] gender into all ministry activities. LMG, in collaboration with the directorate and other stakeholders, is supporting the development of a strategic plan and training manuals which will help guide the process for the institutionalization of gender. 

In Honduras, LMG works with transgendered and homosexual communities who are at risk of HIV and AIDS, and with the Honduras Secretariat for Health to monitor indicators to assess the impact of a new gender initiative.

LMG is also working to strengthen networks such as the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST), in Uganda, where LMG and ACHEST staff are collaborating to conduct a gender audit to determine how responsive the network is to promoting gender equity.

LMG uses a “blended learning” approach: The LMG project is mainstreaming gender into all of its training programs. To date, leadership and management training has been largely gender neutral, and has not specifically addressed gender issues. However, the role of gender in leadership, management, and governance is critical and needs to be addressed. The LMG project uses a blended learning approach—combining virtual and face-to-face methods—in implementing training and encouraging continuous learning through:

  1. Online training through the Virtual Leadership Development Program (VLDP): Incorporating principles of gender equity into leadership and management competencies is an effective way to introduce participants to the importance of addressing gender issues. The VLDP created by the LMG Project for both in-service and pre-service training allows participants to focus on gender issues to improve health systems and health outcomes. Case studies used as part of the training allow participants to consider the challenges women face in the health workforce. The VLDP sessions are interactive, and facilitators encourage participants to look at gender awareness and gender sensitivity as an important aspect of developing their own leadership competencies.
  2. In-person training through the Senior Leadership Program (SLP) and Leadership Development Program Plus (LDP Plus): During these in-person training sessions, LMG project staff work with health leaders to increase their awareness of the importance of gender by understanding concepts, methodologies, and approaches for conducting gender analyses. These programs are committed to ensuring that those who participate build their leadership capacity through an understanding of gender as well as the challenges faced by women in the health workforce. As leaders, managers, and policy-makers within health systems, the awareness built during the training sessions provides a foundation for promoting gender equity as a step toward achieving better health outcomes.
  3. Free gender tools and resources online: The LMG project’s review of literature both within and outside of the health sector has revealed the following: not only does creating opportunities for women to lead, manage, and govern improve people’s health and well-being—it has also been proven to improve the bottom line for business. These studies provide many valuable lessons as LMG and other organizations working to improve health outcomes for people worldwide. These resources can be found on our web portal.


[1] The World Health Organization definition of health systems is applied. The definition puts forward is inclusive and comprises all activities with the primary goal of improving health. Family caregivers, patient provider partners, part time workers (especially women) health volunteers and community workers are within this framework. The plurality of health workers mentioned reflects the broad and diverse nature of health care tasks.

[2] Brody, Alyson. (2009)Gender and Governance and Governance an Overview, Bridge Development Gender: http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/reports/Governance_OR_final.pdf

[3] “Mainstreaming” gender means that the principles of gender equity have become an integral part of leadership, management, and governance activities that run throughout all of the LMG project’s training programs.

Belkis Giorgis, PhD., is the Gender Senior Technical Advisor for the Leadership, Management & Governance Project.

Photo courtesy of: Brandon Jones

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