This blog was written by Caity Jackson, Co-Founder & Director of Communications, Women in Global Health. It summarizes the launch of the Women Leaders in Global Health Initiative that took place at the GHLS 2015 Landscape Symposium on November 19, in Washington, DC. 

At the recent Global Health Council’s Global Health Leadership Series, the Landscape Symposium 2015, the theme focused on Achieving Universality in Global Health: An Imperative for Change. Deliberately crafted to follow the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Symposium provided a high-level forum of exploration, debate and creative thinking on how we must collaborate in the post-2015 landscape. Following the plenary focusing on gender equity in leadership titled ‘Promoting women as leaders: Are good intentions enough?’ was the launch of the joint initiative ‘Women Leaders in Global Health Initiative’ (WLGHI) forged with the partnership of Global Health Council and the Women in Global Health movement. This exciting initiative was conceived in spring 2015 in response to the question, “Why aren’t there more women represented in the highest levels of global health and what can we do about it?” with the aspiration to recognize and develop female leaders in global health through a gender equity lens.

The launch was well received both online and during the Global Health Landscape Symposium in Washington, DC., with one participant writing:

“Pushing aside the incessant replaying of Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” that has occupied my subconscious since the launch and the exciting new connections I’m still forging on social media, the most important takeaway I have from the launch is a bit of a challenge to all of us. Doing what we can to spread the word about Women in Global Health isn’t just a personal prerogative—it’s an imperative of the SDG era.” –Rachel Sellstone, GlobeMed Alumni

Susan Papp, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Women Deliver, moderated the panel preceding the launch announcement that looked at women leadership in global health and challenged the audience to list as many visionary leaders in Global Health they could think of. After a pause, the audience was asked to raise their hands as to how many of those on their list were women and sadly, very few audience members had more than 5 women on their visionary leaders in global health list. Furthermore, Desirée Lichtenstein of the Women in Global Health movement highlighted that to see a women in the google search results for ‘great leaders’, one must enter ‘great female leaders’. With all of this evidence that our society has a gender bias lens on, it could not be more clear that there is a strong need for an initiative focusing on increasing access to leadership positions for women, as well as the visibility and recognition of women leaders in global health through advocacy, which is one of the WLGHI objectives.

WLGHI_Twitter“While most of my coworkers and role models in public health are women, the faces of people who are making important decisions do not represent those of the people working in the field.” – So Yoon Sim, graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS and Bloomberg School of Public Health, former Global Health Corps fellow

The initiative will focus on strategic priority areas of advocacy, networking, mentorship, and capacity building to achieve a world where women are represented in equal numbers to men at the highest levels of decision-making and visibility. Specific focuses of the initiative are to increase access to leadership positions for women, as well as the visibility and recognition of women leaders in global health through advocacy, increasing networking and mentorship opportunities for women, and optimizing opportunities for capacity building and skill development.

During the Global Health Landscape Symposium event, members of the Global Health Council and Women in Global Health teams were onsite to record audio and video clips asking participants to comment on their reflections on gender equity within the global health leadership sphere, the role of women leadership in global health, how to overcome the barriers these women face on the path to leadership, suggesting an action the global health community can take towards a gender equity solution, or a personal/organization commitment on achieving global health leadership gender equity.

Through live tweeting and in person discussions, audience members engaged in a lively discussion around gender equity in the global health field.

Director of Global Health Council, Christine Sow, introduced the initiative by talking about how global health is about equity, power, participation, and voice, saying ‘to meet the SDGs we can short-change 50% of the labour pool’. When looking to the SDGs and global health agendas across the world, it is important to reflect that they won’t be achieved if half of the world’s bright minds are cast aside. All voices must be present at the table, and it is up to us to bring gender equity to global health if any progress in the field is to be made.