Global Health Agencies Face Yawning Gaps In Gender Equality – New 50/50 Report

Stark gender pay and power gaps remain a fact of life in leading global health organisations, according to a new Global Health 50/50 report on gender-equality in nearly 200 workplaces, including United Nations and national development agencies as well as non-profit organisations, research institutions and private sector firms.

The analysis, covering an estimated 4.5 million employees worldwide, indicates that the majority of organisations are failing to deliver on maternity and paternity leave policies, and lack adequate mechanisms for reporting on issues such as gender pay gaps and sexual harassment.

The report, Equality Works [pdf], notes that men are 50 percent more likely to reach senior management than women, and available data shows a gender pay gap of 13.5 percent. However, only 25 percent of organizations actually report on pay gap data, and most of these are in one country (UK) with statutory mandatory reporting requirements.

Only 30 percent of organisations reported having flexible work policies, which help parents advance in the workplace by balancing caregiving responsibilities. Meanwhile, just one quarter of organisations publish their sexual harassment policies – an important workplace transparency measure overall.

Findings were presented today in Addis Ababa, at an event hosted by Ethiopian President H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, the country’s first female president who was elected last year by the Parliament.

President Sahle-Work expressed hopes that subsequent reports would tell a totally different story – “where global health leads, not lags in gender equality.”

Zain Verjee, a former CNN journalist, who moderated a series of panel events at the Addis launch including academics, civil society and government said: “Perhaps it’s time that we all recognise that the world needs a little less testosterone, a lot more estrogen in the corridors of power.”

“Coming to light in the #MeToo era, the findings of this ground-breaking report prove that the fight for gender-equality is far from won. Global health organisations are failing to walk the talk,” Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, said in a press release. “If there is one sector that should set precedent, it is global health. The field stands for principles of rights, fairness and universality, and strives to achieve health for all – particularly the most vulnerable.”

The picture is not all bleak. Over 100 organisations voluntarily disclosed information for the report, and of those, 20 have recently updated gender equality policies, reflecting increased engagement on gender equality issues.

The report provides detailed gender equality scorecards for each agency or organisation in ten areas, ranging from stated policies to gender pay and composition of senior management.

“Very high scorers” included the United Kingdom’s Department for International Affairs (DFID) and Canadian, German and Swedish bilateral development agencies. Among UN system agencies, UN Women, United Nations Development Program and United Nations Population Fund received the highest ranking, while GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; Mercy Corps; Plan International and Population Services International received highest marks. Unilever was the only private sector entity in that category.

As “high scorers” UNICEF, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime received acclaim. Notably the World Health Organization was missing from either “very high” or “high” scorers categories.

Professor Sarah Hawkes, Director of the University College London’s Centre for Gender and Global Health said WHO’s score suffered partially “because we couldn’t access their sexual harassment policy – [this] in the case of WHO and a number of other UN agencies.”

Hawkes, a co-founder of the Global Health 50/50 initiative told Health Policy Watch: “We had ten domains that we ranked against, but a big one that we considered this year was transparency, so organisations score really highly if all of the policies are on their websites and accessible.”

Paradoxically WHO’s gender equality scorecard also suffered because there were more women than men in the Organization’s most senior positions at the time the report was produced, Hawkes added.

“What we are looking for in boards and senior management, was actual parity, of 45-55% men and women,” she said. “At the time, WHO had actually had more women than men, so they wouldn’t have scored as well on that.”

In light of the WHO restructuring announced only yesterday by Director General Tedros Adhanom Gheyebresus (Dr Tedros), the pendulum appears to have swung back again, she pointed out, and senior staff now appear more evenly balanced between women and men.

Getting more granular with available data on gender equity in the workplace remains a challenge Hawkes acknowledged, since the 50/50 Initiative relies largely on volunteer support. For instance, while gender balance in senior management of agencies and organisations was rated, gender balance in lower- and mid-level professional categories is not captured – even for UN system agencies where such data is routinely published.

“We didn’t look at gender distribution by ranking in the multi-lateral organisations,” she said, noting that pay data was used as an indicator for overall gender balance in professional ranks.

“If you look at the gender pay gap data, what that will also give you for organisations is the gender distribution in the organisation,” Hawkes said. “That is part of the UK mandated reporting system and considered organisational best practice.”

This is the second such Global Health 50/50 report, said Hawkes, who co-founded the initiative along with Kent Buse, chief of Strategic Policy Directions at UNAIDS. It came about, she said, “because we had been publishing on this issue for decades in journals, and we hadn’t seen much action. So we decided to do something different.”

Image Credits: Global Health 50/50.

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