October 31, 2018—Women provide most of the world’s frontline health care in their roles as nurses and community health workers, but they are underrepresented in leadership positions. At a recent event held at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers and advocates discussed ways of helping women in the health workforce advance in their careers and manage their family responsibilities—and how this can lead to better health for the patients they serve.
“Women and the Global Health Workforce: Driving Action for Health and Gender Equity,” held October 22, 2018 in Kresge Cafeteria, was sponsored by the School’s Women and Health Initiative and Harvard Global Health Institute.
In the keynote address, Patricia Garcia, Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at Harvard Chan School and a former minister of health of Peru, spoke about experiencing sexism in her career as a physician and public health leader. She said that she refused to let situations such as patients calling her “seniorita” and assuming a male colleague was the real doctor, or a male politician trying to derail her with a tasteless joke during a government hearing, make her feel like she didn’t belong.
During her time as health minister, Garcia introduced new public health policies in sexual and reproductive health, HPV vaccination, food labelling, cervical cancer, electronic medical records, and telemedicine, and she wasn’t shy about taking on issues such as emergency contraception that were controversial in her predominately Catholic country. In her remarks, she urged women in the audience not to let fear of failure keep them from taking leadership positions, and to mentor one another.
In a panel discussion on challenges women face in the health workforce, speakers highlighted the need to support women’s child rearing and other household responsibilities, and to find ways to tap into their expertise. In the U.S., nurses want to engage in evidence-based research, not just be the subject of it, said Nancy Street, associate professor of nursing at UMASS Dartmouth. She stressed the importance of offering educational opportunities to help women get ahead in their careers.
Jessica Cohen, Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Associate Professor of Global Health, described her research on the quality of maternal health care in Uganda and Kenya. She and her colleagues found that the quality of care provided to women and newborns during the middle of the night is much worse than during the day, partly because midwives need to step away to care for their own families. She said that the finding suggests that subsidizing childcare and other efforts to support female health care workers could improve maternal health.
Photos: Nilagia McCoy