The World Health Organization Appoints A New, Majority Female, Senior Leadership Team

As reported, the World Health Organization has announced its new senior leadership team and more than 60% of them are women! This is a major step forward when it comes to women in leadership positions, as well as gender parity. Yes, of course 60% is technically more of a majority rather than an “equal” number, but when you look at the world’s largest organizations, especially in the corporate world, seeing a majority of men in leadership positions is pretty much standard.

When it comes to the WHO, whose work is primarily based around providing research and taking the lead on health issues, and they are the organization that countries look to when decided what to do for outbreaks like Zika, for instance. Beside these emergency health situations, they also do work around everyday health matters and trends. With so many countries putting especially women’s health on the back burner or not making it a priority (yes, even here in the US), the fact that the leadership team is now majority female is very significant.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the importance of having women at the leadership table when it comes to the work they do, as he is a proponent of gender equality.

“The team represents 14 countries, including all WHO regions, and is more than 60% women, reflecting my deep-held belief that we need top talent, gender equity and a geographically diverse set of perspectives to fulfill our mission to keep the world safe,” he said in the announcement on the website.

As TIME’s Casey Quackenbush reports, having more women in leadership roles isn’t just about filling quotas or paying lip service, the data shows it is especially important when it comes to healthcare.

“The agency’s proclivity for women’s empowerment is particularly significant, as study after study show that gender diversity in leadership is necessary to improve global health policy. Evidence suggests women and children bear a disproportionate burden from sickness and death due to lack of access to care, finance and education,” she wrote.

Seeing more women in top leadership positions is a must, especially given that the latest data on female CEOs, for example, show only 6.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female (32 in total) according to the latest figures. Although we have seen an increase in the number of women leading nations, the majority of countries around the world are yet to have a female leader.

When it comes to healthcare policies, specifically healthcare for women, having women making decisions and leading discussions is a must. Just look at the way a majority of men are making all the decisions about women’s reproductive healthcare in the US right now, proposing bills that cut coverage for maternity care, prenatal care, access to safe and legal abortion and birth control. If the rollback of rights in the US is alarming, we can only imagine what it is like in the developing world where patriarchal standards are the norm and women are fundamentally seen as unequal in society.

The WHO appointing qualified, experienced women (a majority of them being women of color – also important) who are at the top of their field to lead the way on global health policies is no doubt going to impact outcomes in a positive way for women and girls.

The new team includes former ministers of health, some of the world’s leading physicians, scientists and researchers, and programmatic experts in universal health coverage, health emergencies, communicable and noncommunicable diseases, climate and environmental health, and women’s, adolescents’ and children’s health. Individually and collectively, they have a wealth of experience across government, private sector, multilateral, civil society and academic organizations.

So who are these women? Two of them have been appointed Deputy Director-Generals. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director-General for Programs, is a pediatrician from India who is widely renowned for her work with HIV and tuberculosis. Jane Ellison, Deputy Director-General for Corporate Operations, is a former U.K. Parliamentarian who was the Public Health Minister from 2013-2016, and spearheaded the UK’s response to the Ebola virus during that time.

The rest of the women also come from various parts of the world and boast an impressive resume of health leadership and expertise between them. Dr. Naoko Yamamoto is the Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Health Systems Cluster. Hailing from Japan, she spent the last 30 years advancing the country’s leadership role in global health and promoting universal health care.

Professor Lubna A. Al-Ansary, Assistant Director-General for Metrics and Measurement, is from Saudi Arabia. She is a Professor of Family Medicine at the College of Medicine at King Saud University, and she also became one of the first female MPs to ever join Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council.

Dr. Svetlana Akselrod, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, comes from Russia. She has 15 years of experience in public health coordination and global health diplomacy, and previously served as Coordinator at the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.

Ambassador Michèle Boccoz, Assistant Director-General for External Relations, is a French Diplomat who has worked with the UN, and was the country’s ambassador for the fight against HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases. Dr. Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão, Assistant Director General for Drug Access, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals. She has worked for the last 30 years toward enhancing and decentralizing Brazil’s public health system.

Dr. Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents, has spent 30 years working in South Africa as an obstetrician, academic, advocate and government official. Dr. Joy St John, Assistant Director-General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health, has spent more than 20 years in public health management and health diplomacy, and 10 years serving as Chief Medical Officer of Barbados.

You can read more about the World Health Organization’s Senior Leadership team by going to their website and reading the full press release, which includes a list of the appointed men who are joining the women.



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