Blog Health Care

Leadership in women’s health

Written by Sithembile Chithenga, MBBS, master of public health candidate and alumna of the 2019 Summer Research Program, Washington University in St. Louis

I recently attended the 6th Annual Midwest Universities for Global Health Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of the most memorable sessions at the conference was the Women in Global Health Midwest Chapter meeting. There I met an inspiring group of women and learned about leadership, women’s health, and celebrating women’s contributions to global health.

Women make up the bulk of the healthcare workforce and are a minority at the decision-making table.

According to projections, if the rate of change were to remain constant, equality would only be realized more than a century from now. I state this not to discount current efforts as ineffective or to discredit the work of the giants who got us here in the first place. However, it’s glaringly apparent that there is more to be done and we cannot rest on previous laurels.

Washington University team at MUGH conference -Assistant Professor, Caline Mattar, MD, Department of Medicine; Jacaranda van Rheenen, PhD, and manager, Global Health Center; and blog author Sithembile Chithenga, MBBS

Listening to these women speak, I was surprised by the universality of challenges women in various ranks face in organizations. During discussions, these women acknowledged the nuances and complexities, but they were never shy to confront inequalities and work on solutions. True to this attitude, I witnessed the start of numerous collaborations and support structures intended for this very purpose. In addition to leadership, discussions also touched on women’s right to healthcare.

One powerful idea that is often understated is that women’s health should not be treated as a means to an end. That is: recognizing the right to women’s healthcare not because they bear the next generation or are the primary caregivers but rather, recognizing women’s right to health care simply because it’s their human right.

Reflecting on the healthcare systems in the sub-Saharan region where I am from, this rang powerful to me. Most of the investment in women’s health is concentrated in maternal health. There are many good reasons for this especially in a resource-limited setting however, I could not help but imagine what healthcare services would look like and the impact on women, if it was women’s health just for the sake of their right to health.

Another activity that I enjoyed was reading the biographies of the Women in Global Health nominees for 2019 Women Leaders. I was amazed at the breadth of their achievement and work working towards wellbeing of people both locally and globally.

Some of the Washington University women recognized by their peers included: Jean Hunleth, PhD, MPH; Lora Iannotti, PhD; Jessica Levy, PhD; Caline Mattar, MD; Mary McKay, PhD; Indira Mysorekar, PhD; Mackenzie Robinson, MPH; Deborah Salvo, PhD; and Jacaranda van Rheenen, PhD.

I’m grateful to be surrounded by a strong cohort of women and more importantly appreciative that these women all make it point to be mentor and allies to other women.