Women Delivering Health
Earlier this month, 6,000 decision-makers, implementers, researchers, advocates, and private sector representatives from 169 countries descended upon Vancouver, Canada for the 2019 Women Deliver Conference – four days of learning, sharing, awareness-raising, and partnership-building to accelerate progress toward global sustainable development for women and girls.
Here are some key health-related insights:
Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)
NCDs account for 41 million deaths annually. They cause two in three deaths among women annually, and the burden of mortality and morbidity is expected to increase, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Member organizations of the Taskforce on Women and Non-Communicable Diseases – including powerhouse organizations such as Women Deliver and the George Institute for Global Health – advocate for a life course approach to addressing NCDs to improve the quality of health care women receive throughout their lives and, thus, improve global inequity.
“In high-income countries, the cancer journey is a hopeful one. In low-income countries, the cancer journey may feel like a hopeless one,” stated Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, President of the Union for International Cancer Control. For example, 90% of women who die annually from cervical cancer are from low- and middle-income countries.
Tobacco control efforts have been largely gender-blind to date. Dr. Veronica Magar, who leads the Gender, Equity and Human Rights Mainstreaming Team at the World Health Organization, indicated that the NCD research and advocacy community needs to step up and advocate putting a gendered approach on the agenda.
When asked about the Canadian government’s stance on e-cigarettes, Dr. Miga Chultem, Manager at the Public Health Agency of Canada, insisted such products should be carefully studied to understand the health benefits, but should not be advertised to be “made cool” for youth uptake.
Women, Stigma, and Harm Reduction
During a panel on perinatal substance use, participants explored how stigma ostracizes people to the margins of society and reduces our understanding of people to only the stigmatized identifiers applied to their lives. A harm reduction approach to substance use, and thereby smoking, is about bodily autonomy and changing the narrative from stigmatization to providing education so people can make informed choices.
How we can help end this stigma:
Humanize people who use substances.
Provide education and training to those who interact with substance users.
Engage users to ensure their unique knowledge is incorporated into any directive or outcome.
Promote harm reduction services so users can feel safe and respected. According to Denise Bradshaw, a Director at the British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, harm reduction and recovery-orientated programs can live in harmony together.
The Private Sector and Global Health Supply Chains
Engaging and influencing the private sector was a common theme throughout the conference. Women’s rights and needs will not be met without private sector reform and a transformation of current business models.
Women make up 37% of the global supply chain work force but only 14% of leadership. Women are critical to shaping the product journey from developer to consumer in order to break down barriers related to local markets, social norms, policies, and supply chains.
The private sector can promote greater autonomy and options, and position and price products so that they are accessible to women. But how? “Listen to what women want and don’t make assumptions. Just asking women is revolutionary,” explained Michelle Milford Morse, the UN Foundation’s Vice President for Girls and Women Strategy.
Carolyn Hart, Vice President of the International Division at John Snow Inc., and Leila Varkey, Senior Advisor of Reproductive Health at the Centre for Catalyzing Change, emphasized that scaling progress requires political will and a commitment to allocating resources. Both the government and private sector should move away from a scarcity mindset in order to accelerate success.
According to Peter Sands, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, “There is suspicion, mistrust, and a sheer lack of understanding of the private sector.” Governments, civil society, and actors in the health system can learn from the private sector, particularly companies thriving in the supply chain revolution and delivering fast-moving consumer goods, to resolve inequities and address pain points in the customer journey.
Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Former Prime Minister of Australia, echoed that sentiment. “We should never be afraid of widening partnerships and moderating the tensions between them – the more actors, the greater the possibility for change.”