Recognizing Remarkable Women and their Contributions Towards Health for All

December 12, 2019

The attendees and panelists participate in the Breakfast Conversation with Heroines of Health at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice on Wednesday September 25, 2019. Photo credit: Rob Tannenbaum. Photo courtesy of Women in Global Health.


Today we commemorate Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day. UHC is a nation’s promise to its people that health is a fundamental right. In September, the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC took place during the United Nations General Assembly. For the first time, leaders adopted a high-level United Nations Political Declaration on UHC, the most comprehensive set of health commitments ever agreed to at this level. Today, UHC Day will focus on leaders keeping their promises. Increased political will and resources are essential, however, realizing UHC is not just a job for governments.

The Political Declaration has historical significance. It builds on the World Health Organization’s Constitution from 1946 that envisages “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” Human rights and access to quality healthcare have always been intertwined. However, to keep the promise of achieving health for all people, national health programs must be driven by local leadership. Consistent with last week’s Landscape Symposium hosted by the Global Health Council, we at Women in Global Health believe that we must #DemocratizeGlobalHealth. To us, that means local partners, especially women, must drive the necessary change for gender equity matters and positively influence local, regional, and global health policies related to UHC. We must reconsider the role of women and their communities in health.

Global Health Council President & Executive Director Loyce Pace takes a photo with the 2019 Heroines of Health. Photo credit: Women in Global Health

Why does the gender dimension matter when it comes to UHC? Two main reasons: gender norms and power structures still impede girls and women’s access to healthcare. Women are 70% of the global health workforce and contribute nearly $3 trillion to the health and social sector. They are the leaders and drivers of health in their communities, and without them, UHC will not be possible.

We recognize that in 2020 there will be several key moments that have the power to advance gender equality and empower women and girls. The global community will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). It is also the “Year of the Nurse and midwife”, in honor of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale. Designated by WHO and Member States, this theme promotes nursing and midwifery as key elements to achieve UHC.  Finally, a five-year milestone will be reached towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

All of these events are opportunities to advocate for UHC and to recognize and elevate women leaders in health. Honoring the accomplishments of these women is a key priority for us and our partners. To date, we have presented awards to 29 “Heroines of Health”. These Heroines have had a tremendous impact on shaping the future of global health and deserve to be heard. We will continue to recognize remarkable women and their achievements – and we will pass the microphone to them.

We will not achieve UHC with the status quo. We must listen, learn, and act based on the recommendations from implementers on the frontlines. Yes, politicians must keep their promises. But we must also give voice to local partners, especially women. This is the only way we will succeed in bringing health to all people.


This post was written by Roopa Dhatt, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Women in Global Health, and Kate Dodson, Board Chair, Global Health Council, and Vice President for Global Health Strategy, United Nations Foundation. Established in 2015, Women in Global Health was founded with the values of being a movement. WGH works with other global health organizations to encourage stakeholders from governments, civil society, foundations, academia and professional associations and the private sector to achieve gender equality in global health leadership in their space of influence.

This post was originally published on Global Health NOW.