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Gender equality: WHO urges everyone to recognise leadership skills, potential of women

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, has urged everyone to recognise the leadership skills and potential of women toward moving the world closer to gender equality.

She made the call in her message to mark the 2021 International Women’s Day (IWD), globally celebrated on March 8 to recognise the achievements of women and to take stock of progress toward gender equality.

The regional director said overcoming inequities in societies would lead to better health, development and prosperity for all people.

She added that WHO remained committed to enabling women to advance in their careers and enhance their leadership potential.

“Over 80 mid-level and senior female staff in the region have participated in leadership training and we are piloting its expansion to ministries of health.

“In the Republic of the Congo, 34 women leading decentralised primary health institutions participated in the programme.

“Last year, we launched the Africa Young Women Champions Initiative in partnership with the UN volunteers programme to recruit 100 UN volunteers in the African Region.

“In spite of the immense challenges of the COVID-19 response, already 27 volunteers are on board, 93 per cent are female and more than 20 additional will be on board in the coming months.

“Women now account for 33 per cent of our workforce, up from 30 per cent in 2015,’’ she said.

In addition, she said, WHO had established a mentoring programme and a task force to promote a more conducive working environment for female WHO staff in the Region.

On the 2021 IWD theme; “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World,” Moeti said the pandemic had shone light on the effective leadership skills of women.

According to her, 70 per cent of the frontline health workforce exposed to a heightened risk of infection and as stewards of families and communities are women.

She said women had stepped-up to this challenge with courage and honesty, learning and adapting in a rapidly evolving situation.

“At the same time, inequities that disadvantage women have been exacerbated in this pandemic.

“Stay-at-home orders brought the livelihoods of many African women – working as hairdressers or market vendors, for example – to a standstill.

“Lockdowns, coupled with fears of infection and health workforce shortages, are among the reasons for reports of drops in access to contraception, antenatal care and births in health facilities in Zimbabwe and other countries.

“These restrictions, including school closures, also increased the risks of sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies and dropping out of school, particularly for girls.

“This pandemic will have long-term impacts on the social and economic fabric of our societies, including progress toward gender equality.”

She, therefore, explained that the organisation was providing guidance and technical support to governments to ensure the continuous delivery of essential gender-responsive services and to assess the barriers girls and women face in reaching quality services.

“Thirty-six Member States in the African Region have integrated at least one gender-responsive measure in their national COVID-19 response plans.

“We have trained 155 health workers in 22 African countries to support women suffering from gender-based violence and to continue to safely deliver sexual and reproductive health and HIV services in the context of COVID-19,’’ she added.

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