Women Leaders in Global Health Conference, Oct 2017.

In October, I had the opportunity to attend a pretty sweet conference (bet you never heard the words ‘pretty sweet’ and ‘conference’ next to each other). Stanford University hosted 390 women and 20 (very brave) men from 68 countries to celebrate women in global health leadership positions and dream up ways to cultivate the next generation of women leaders.

‘Gender parity’ is a term thrown around a lot these days, but it’s easy to forget about the facts that underpin these conversations so here are two quick ones:

  • Women make up 75% of global health workers.

  • Women comprise just 24% of leadership positions.

I’ve been a part of organizations and conversations that love talking about how this happened and why it’s horrible, but this group was different. Our focus was on the individuals who are being affected by this lack of parity, and how to help them while striving for equal representation in global health leadership positions.

During the one-day conference, I heard from speakers with a broad range of expertise. Here were a few of my favorites:

  • Jennifer Leaning, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, spoke on the resilience of displaced women in areas of crisis. She gave memorable examples through photos from the UN archive that showed women going about day to day activities in disaster zones with their hair tidied, lipstick on, and strong determined gazes on their faces, often holding a baby in one arm and a toddler on the other hip.

  • Laurie Garrett, Foreign Policy Columnist, Health Journalist and Author, shared the hurdles women in journalism must overcome to succeed. She specifically mentioned the unspoken dangers of women reporting on health in war zones, who experience different risks than most men in journalism would encounter (think: rape). Often women reporting in crisis zones stay quiet about these very real dangers so that their organizations continue sending them, giving them the opportunity to advance in their careers.

  • Agnes Binagwaho, Lecturer at Harvard University that formerly worked in the Rwandan Ministry of Health, gave pointed examples of moments of sexism in the workplace, like the time she was reprimanded at work for calling a man ugly after he told her to sit on his lap during a meeting. The man was not reprimanded.

  • Marika Anthony-Shaw, CEO of Plus1 and touring musician of Arcade Fire, spoke on the impact you can make in the world of Global Health without being a health worker by trade.

  • Sonita Alizadeh, a rap musician born under the Taliban Regime who uses her influence to speak out against child marriage, shared heart-wrenching stories of her friends, often under 13 years old, who were sold by their families for income as wives to older men.

A common thread in almost every conversation was one of our favorite things to nerd out about at Standard Code: data. There is a huge need to see disease data disaggregated by gender, something that is not commonly done in today’s disease reporting, especially for Neglected Tropical Diseases. I was honestly quite surprised by this because many of our clients do this by default (they’re awesome), so I did my own research to hunt down disease data by gender, and it was really disappointing (it exists in some cases, but is definitely not as common as it is with our Standard Code clients).

I stumbled across this quote from a speech Melinda Gates gave at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen in 2016:

“By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals the world agreed to achieve gender equality by 2030. But we cannot close the gender gap without first closing the data gap. We simply don't know enough about the barriers holding women and girls back, nor do we have sufficient information to track progress against the promises made to women and girls.”

This is what I take home with me. I hope to bring this into conversations in the office, when dreaming up ideas for our product Secure Data Kit, and in conversations with clients, when collaborating to design forms that will be used to collect data on communities affected by disease.

The conference ended with a feedback session where attendees stood up and spoke about their hope that we don’t lose sight of our original goals while striving for gender parity: let’s rid the world of disease. We of course think that gender parity in global health leadership positions will accelerate this, but the first focus is those impacted by disease, and if women around the world rise to leadership positions because of our success working to eradicate disease, well that’s just the much-deserved icing on the cake.

Nov. 09 2017