By Gift Briton

To achieve universal health coverage, experts urge that there is a need to put women in leadership roles including policy-making, budgeting, planning, and implementation for healthcare.

Speaking during a plenary session under the theme, “Women in Health” at the ongoing Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022) in Rwanda, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) noted that despite women forming more than 70% of the health workforce in Africa, they are underrepresented in leadership positions for healthcare.

This inequity disproportionately affects women’s lives and livelihoods and whenever there are emergencies and pandemics including wars and disease outbreaks, they are always sidelined from providing solutions, as a result, women’s healthcare needs are not fully met, she said.

According to Byanyima, in Africa, poverty, patriarchy, and violence, all together undermine women’s health and access to healthcare.

“In Africa, adolescent girls and women are three times more likely to be infected with AIDS than boys and men of the same age. Therefore, challenging patriarchy, gender-based violence, overcoming poverty and providing women healthcare, are priorities that must be pursued together not one after the other or one traded off with another,” she urged, adding that countries must work towards achieving gender parity in senior positions in public health, parliament and in local governments.

“I call upon countries and other actors to support women health entrepreneurs to solve health problems. Increasing women innovators’ access to capital will improve public health, grow economies, and benefit the wider society. Let us invest more in women’s leadership to achieve gender equity in health in Africa,” she said.

Furthermore, Dr. Magda Robalo, President, Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD) noted that gender inequities are created by societal barriers that limit women’s access to leadership positions.

“Women have absorbed cultural norms from societies and most of the time, they don’t even realize that they are sometimes the first obstacle for them to move to leadership positions. Education, sensitization and networks of women, in the long run, is what is going to make a difference within societies and across the world,” she said.

“ We need popular movements from the bottom up in order to transform the society the way we want it to go and ensure that our boys are educated differently otherwise they would be perpetuating the same repressive patriarchal attitude that their parents have passed on to them.”

As a powerful and influential tool, Dr. Lwazi Manzi, Head of Secretariat, African Union COVID-19 Commission, reiterated the importance of pushing women’s agenda in the media. She said that it is crucial to give women gatekeeping and producing roles to enable them to advance women’s agenda in the industry.

“We want our stories to go out there and be consumed the same the west has been able to push their content to a point where it is being consumed by ourselves. Film and television are very powerful and influential. we still have a story to tell about women who took leadership and have really contributed to the developmental agenda. Those kinds of stories can only be effectively advanced by women producers,” she said.