Benin Integrates Gender for Universal Health Access

No one wanted to miss this day.

Cabinet-level Ministers, Ministry of Health officials, representatives of partner organizations, institutions, projects, and donors—like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—all filed in on the morning of Thursday, August 20, for a public handover event where the USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project formally presented the strategic planning documents for a national Gender Mainstreaming Strategy to the Benin Ministry of Health (MOH). As the MOH prepares to implement this new national strategy to promote universal access to health services, here is a look back at the planning and development of this strategy, and how far it has come.

In 2014, the MOH identified gender structures as a barrier to equitable access of high-quality health services. Recognizing the broad expertise of their technical partners and funders, the MOH reached out to the LMG Project to identify tools that could mainstream gender concerns into the health system, and to coordinate engagement among key stakeholders. These included the Belgian Development Agency, the Benin MOH, UNDP, UNFPA, USAID, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.

The LMG Project conducted a gender analysis to assess the state of gender integration in Benin’s health system that informed the development of the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy. In September 2014, the stakeholders finalized the strategy, and it was signed by Benin’s Minister of Health. Since that time, the MOH has continued to collaborate with these partners to develop a promotion and dissemination strategy to ensure that gender concerns are integrated equitably at the national level.

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This is not the only time that the LMG Project has supported gender mainstreaming as a key variable for effective health system governance. For example, Ethiopia made gender equity a priority in 1993 by creating a National Policy on Women, but the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) did not establish a Gender Directorate until 2008. The lack of widespread political will was a significant challenge for the new Directorate.

The FMOH Gender Directorate recognized that health service providers needed gender awareness training in order to deliver more effective health services and improve health outcomes. In support of the FMOH, the LMG Project collaborated on the a gender mainstreaming training manual that could be used to train all FMOH staff working at the federal and regional levels.

Furthermore, improving effective governance in health means more than just integrating gender concerns. Health governing bodies must also promote women’s leadership and active involvement, from decision-making to service delivery. These principles remain at the core of the LMG Project’s activities beyond supporting the development of country-level gender mainstreaming strategies. For example, the LMG Project has:

  • launched an East Africa Women’s Mentoring Network to help promote women working in family planning, sexual and reproductive health, and other health areas;
  • developed the Gender in Health Governance Tool for health governing bodies to assess their gender responsiveness;
  • supported Mobility International USA’s Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) to train women leaders with disabilities from around the world; and
  • promoted roundtables highlighting the importance of women leaders in health governance.

Through effective implementation and scale up, Benin’s Gender Mainstreaming Strategy will help MOH staff integrate gender concerns in order to provide responsive and equitable access to health services.

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