Women in Leadership

Generating evidence, insights, and policy and investment recommendations on advancing women’s leadership in the health sector in India and Kenya.

Image: Mother, David Martín Huamaní Bedoya. Peru, 2019.

While women make up a large share of all people working in health, they rarely make it to leadership positions. Our 2022 GH5050 Report: Boards For All? found that only 32% of CEOs and board chairs were women and just 39% of organisations had gender parity (45-55% women) at senior management. Only 23% of member state delegations to the World Health Assembly (WHA) were headed by women in 2022 (Women in Global Health, 2022), reflecting gendered leadership patterns in Ministries of Health.

This relative lack of women in senior decision-making positions is not explained by a shortage of qualified candidates. At the international level and in many countries, there are a large number of accomplished women in mid-career and senior levels in the health sector. Many of these women face barriers to advancing within health occupations and organisations, including gender norms around domestic responsibilities, desirable leadership traits, and a lack of training and skill building opportunities (WHO, 2019).

The manifestations of gendered (and class and ethnicity) power are highly visible in the health sector, including in the forms of divisions of labour and unequal pay, seniority and influence. Yet the health workforce needs to be fair, equitable and inclusive for the health system to be effective. Inclusive leadership, including that of women, matters because it can facilitate resource allocation, research, conditions of employment in the sector, and service delivery that is better matched to people’s needs (Downs et al., 2014).

Together with the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), GH5050 is generating evidence to understand two issues at the root of low representation of women in the leadership of the health sectors in India and Kenya:

  1. context-specific barriers to women’s career pathways, and particularly for women who experience multiple forms of discrimination, including structural and social factors;
  2. the lack of effective and accessible strategies to promote women’s advancement into positions of leadership.

The research focuses on two contexts – India and Kenya. Both countries have the potential to provide a wealth of insight into large lower-middle income countries with complex health systems. The countries serve as regional hubs with substantial presence of regional and global health organisations and are home to a diverse range of actors, organisations and sectors active in public health.

The research will generate evidence, insights, and policy and investment recommendations on advancing women’s leadership in the health sector in India and Kenya. The findings will be published in 2023.

Expand to read more about our research partners

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research institute with offices located in Washington, D.C.; New Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kampala, Uganda. Established in 1976 and anchored in the principle of human dignity, ICRW advances gender equity, social inclusion and shared prosperity worldwide. Our researchers dig into the ways gender shapes societies and the ways people’s lives are diminished by power imbalances. We use evidence to inform our advocacy, advisory services and program design. Our evidence sheds light on some of the most intractable challenges facing us and informs solutions that work.

The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)

The African Population and Health Research Center is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, exploring questions of population health and wellbeing. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, with a newly opened satellite office in Dakar, Senegal, the Center seeks to drive change with evidence led by a growing cadre of research leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa. Our teams orient their research agendas according to global and continental development priorities, driven by the belief that Africa and African-generated evidence must be at the forefront of decisions supporting improved growth and development.

Last updated 31 January 2023.