While global health organizations increasingly are committed to promoting gender equality, their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been largely gender-blind and, as a result, less effective, a report from Global Health 50/50 finds.
Based on the 2021 Gender and Health Index, the report, Gender Equality: Flying blind in a time of crisis (79 pages, PDF), found that among the more than two hundred public-private partnerships and multilateral, bilateral, regional, philanthropic, nonprofit, faith-based, private-sector, and research organizations examined, 79 percent have a stated commitment to gender equality “for the benefit of all” (58 percent) or to gender equality with a focus on empowering women and girls (21 percent), up from 75 percent in 2020. The share of organizations with specific measures in place to promote gender equality, however, remained unchanged from 2020, at 61 percent, as did the share of men among CEOs and board chairs, at 70 percent.
The study also found that 39 percent of the organizations have adopted “gender-transformative” language — which recognizes that gender drives health inequities and aims to transform harmful gender norms, systems, and structures and foster gender equality — in describing their core work, up from 29 percent in 2020, and 32 percent use “gender-specific” language (unchanged). Yet despite evidence from past pandemics suggesting that responses that take gender and intersecting vulnerabilities into account can improve health outcomes for all, COVID-19 response efforts have been predominantly gender-blind. Among three hundred and forty-nine COVID-19 initiatives reported by a hundred and forty organizations, gender-specific or gender-sensitive efforts accounted for only 10 percent of efforts to provide protections for healthcare workers; 12 percent of vaccine, diagnostics, and treatment R&D projects; 16 percent of initiatives to expand healthcare access; 25 percent of campaigns to promote positive health behaviors; and 39 percent of efforts to support national surveillance programs.
Based on seventeen variables that contribute to addressing both inequality of opportunity in career pathways and inequality in who benefits from the global health system — including polices aimed at advancing to gender equality and diversity, transparency on sexual harassment policies and the gender pay gap, gender-responsiveness of programming, and sex-disaggregated monitoring and evaluation — the 2021 Gender and Health Index identified twelve top-scoring organizations. They are: EngenderHealth; GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the International Planned Parenthood Federation; Population Services International; Save the Children; Scaling Up Nutrition; Stop TB Partnership; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency; UN Women; Unitaid; and the United Nations Development Programme.
“The health and well-being of the people both employed and served by organi[z]ations active in global health cannot afford another year of missed opportunities,” the report’s authors write. “Global health actors should unite around a feminist vision where all people are valued and entitled to voice and agency in order to equitably share in the distribution of power, knowledge, and resources. People working in organi[z]ations active in global health should join forces across movements for gender, social, and climate justice, and hold each other accountable.”