Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes or less, you'll learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better.

Lama Alsafi (00:21): My name is Lama Alsafi and I'm the host of this podcast. Today we're speaking with Tikhala Itaye, the Director of Global Movement Building with Women in Global Health. Tikhala is a human rights lawyer from Malawi who has spent the last ten years in policy and advocacy movement building work related to sexual reproductive health and rights. She led a regional youth network called AfriYAN—the African Youth and Adolescent Network—that coordinates youth networks in 21 East and Southern African countries. She serves as a board member on the Global Partnership on Maternal, Newborn and child Health, and is the former chairperson for the global political movement on women and girls rights called She Decides. Tikhala joins us remotely from Malawi today. Tikhala thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the podcast.

Tikhala Itaye (01:07): Hi Lama, great to be part of this podcast.

Lama Alsafi (01:09): Nice to have you with us. So first off, Tikhala could you tell us a bit about Women in Global Health and the work that you do?

Tikhala Itaye (01:17): Yeah, sure. So firstly Women in Global Health is a global movement with the largest network of women and allies who are really working together to challenge power and privilege for gender equity in health. It started about in 2015 and we've grown to about 50,000—over 50,000—supporters in 90 countries, and we have 40 official national chapters in about 36 countries all over the world. The work that we do pretty much looks into enabling women from around the world to engage at national and global levels in policy development and leadership, particularly for women that are underrepresented from low and middle income countries. A lot of the work that we do as Women in Global Health focuses on gender inequity in health, looking at gaps in women leadership in the health sector, the gender pay gap, and also looking at ending sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in global health.

Lama Alsafi (02:13): And how has your experience in training as a human rights lawyer shaped the lens through which you do, or you frame, your global health work

Tikhala Itaye (02:21): As a human rights lawyer, the work that I've done in global health has really given me the urgency to ensure that health is truly recognized and imposed as a human right. As a lawyer itself, I think with just practicing being a lawyer, one of the key things we do is always thinking about, we need evidence to make a case. And a lot of the work that we do with Women in Global Health is about advocacy and advocating health leaders all over the world to adopt gender policies and gender transformative practices, as well as safe and decent working conditions for women. And some of the key practices just being a lawyer has helped me look into how do we work with women and frontline health workers that are on the ground at across levels, in different communities to hear their stories, to understand what is going on the ground and use that as evidence to make a case, to really inform a lot of decision making at a national decision making level.

Tikhala Itaye (03:18): There is a lot of data gap when it comes to the needs of women and girls, and the work that we've done is really being able to galvanize that evidence at a country level, from different women, allies, and networks. So when I was just sharing earlier on to say that the urgency that I have had in global health, especially being a human rights lawyer is to really enforce that human rights element. We already know that health is internationally recognized as a human right, a basic right that each and every one of us is entitled to, which means that at the core of the advocacy work I do, I want to ensure that decision makers, health leaders, and any other institutions working on health or providing health-related services are aware of that legal obligation to provide health needs that are acceptable and afford available for all, as well as really providing those kind underlying determinants of health, whether it is health-related education, education, gender equality, sanitation, who needs housing. So, yeah, in a nutshell, I would really tie it down to that kind of element of ensuring that health and all the spaces that we do is a human rights that is recognized and enforced.

Lama Alsafi (04:33): And what does gender equity in health look like in practice? And why is it so important, not just for women and those who identify as women, but for everyone?

Tikhala Itaye (04:43): To me, I would say gender equity really means fairness of treatment. And this is fairness of treatment all across the board, holistically in all kind of the different levels of systems and structures that we work in. This could be looking at equal pay or equal leadership. This could be fairness of treatment when it comes to even accessing health care services and providing health care services and contributing to decision making around health policies and practices, should all be done with this gender equity lens. And this is important because we live in a world and countries with diverse populations, which means that they are diverse needs that are all contributing to the economic development of our respective countries and the world wide. And so if there is no gender equity in health, this in turn creates an inequitable health system that will impact the health of the world overall.

Lama Alsafi (05:43): And Tikhala, what would you say are the biggest challenges right now when it comes to gender equity in health, and then what are some of the ways that we can overcome these challenges?

Tikhala Itaye (05:52): So there are quite a lot of challenges, but I will stick to the ones as Women in Global Health that we are looking into and advancing. And the first one is on gender pay gap in the health sector. Today, women account for 70% of the health and social care workforce, but women remain largely segregated in lower status and lower paid jobs in health, and are being subject to gender bias, discrimination, and in some contexts, under the constant threat of violence. So we have large numbers of women in health that are working without the protection of legislation to guarantee them decent work or equal pay. Many are constantly looking at pushing for better pay or are even underpaid, and this gender gap in the health sector is higher than other sectors, despite it being a female-majority profession. And that's been one of the biggest challenges we've been advancing, and some of the ways to overcome this has been ensuring that the voices, especially the voices of the frontline health workers or the women working in health with social care workers are really speaking out against these issues, getting their stories out there, and using those opportunities to dialogue with different respective health leaders of the institutions, of the countries to really change these practices. Secondly, the workplace violence and sexual harassment in the health sector has been also a big issue, which is also often hidden.

Tikhala Itaye (07:27): I think as women, we struggle in our different workspaces to speak out on any violence or sexual harassment because we know that sometimes the power dynamics and the spaces that we fear what is going to happen to our job and the financial security when I report these issues. And as Women in Global Health, we have been doing some work in calling this out, in gathering these stories and finding a safe space for women to share what is going on in the different spaces they work in, and being able to hold different key institutions accountable. And I think that is a key thing of having to overcome some of these challenges. The more we bring them out in the open, the more we call out statements, we've had big statements that have gone out to the World Health Organization, just calling out on different violence and sexual harassment that's happening in different countries and holding them accountable to it.

Tikhala Itaye (08:23): And thirdly, I would say is in the gap in women leadership, which is such a big piece. And I already mentioned earlier on that there is a lot of gender inequity when it comes to women's leadership in the health sector, but you know, politically as well, we see the harm that it causes when countries are led by men. If we just look for example, in what happened in Afghanistan in 2021, when you know, huge kind of political movement led by men where women and girls would be pushed out of education and jobs and public life. We've also seen the harm where the Trump administration had put in place a global gag rule, which affected the reproductive health needs of many women and girls all over the world. COVID-19 responses. Majority of the national COVID-19 health sources are led by men, which means that a lot of the resources that we have seen coming in around responding to the COVID-19 pandemic have been diverted away from reproductive maternal health space for women and girls, all because of not having that diverse representation in these key leadership positions. So, yeah, I mean this, in a nutshell, are like the key challenges, and for us, the biggest piece of work to overcome these challenges is to really push through in advocacy, getting these stories out there, getting the key data out there, getting women to speak out on these challenges and being able to present them to key health leaders, decision makers, to adopt practices and policies that advance and address these challenges.

Lama Alsafi (10:02): Tikhala, where and how are you seeing gender equity in health being put into action successfully?

Tikhala Itaye (10:08): So I would like to talk about one initiative that, one of the initiatives that Women in Global Health has been leading in with different politically and globally, and this is the Gender Health and Care Workforce Initiative. This was launched with the government of France and other political leaders, and the objectives with this initiative is to increase visibility, dialogue, commitment to action on gender equity in health and care workforce. The initiative aims to drive action in four pillars. The first one is around increasing the proportion of women in health and care leadership roles; recognizing the value of unpaid health and care work and the importance of equal pay; protecting women in health and care against sexual harassment and violence at work; and ensuring safe and decent working conditions for all health workers everywhere. The work that we've been doing under this initiative has really been a movement.

Tikhala Itaye (11:07): We also are working with the World Health Organization on this, and we really are mobilizing and galvanizing different member states, under WHO, the World Health Organization, to really commit and be part of this initiative, and to commit to align with those four pillars themselves. And I think these are one of the initiatives just when it was even launched last year, that you really have seen just a pickup of just political will and commitment to really address some of these key issues that we don't normally talk about or look into. So, I would say for now that, you know, that has been one of the successful platforms and spaces that we have been looking into and an initiative that has really galvanized political momentum on addressing some of these key issues.

Lama Alsafi (11:57): Finally, how can our listeners in Canada and around the world learn more about gender equity in global health and to become advocates for it?

Tikhala Itaye (12:06): You know, issues of gender inequity are always all around us, whether it's at home, in our schools, in our work spaces, in our social spaces. And I always want to encourage people to say that when you see or experience an of gender inequity, it's a matter of letting those stories be known to other, sharing those stories or speaking out against any inequity that's happening. Because I feel that, you know, the more these stories come out, the more change is most likely to happen. So I think the first thing is being wherever you are, being able to speak, stand up and speak out on gender equity in the spaces that you're already at. And secondly, feel free to get involved with the work that we're doing in Women in Global Health. We're always so keen to work with different allies and networks who are interested in the work that we do.

Lama Alsafi (13:05): Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today Tikhala, and we really enjoyed speaking with you.

Tikhala Itaye (13:11): And thank you very much, this has been really exciting to share a bit of our work.

Lama Alsafi (13:15): Thank you. Where can our listeners learn more about your organization? What's your website?

Tikhala Itaye (13:21): So you can learn more about our organization by visiting www.womeningh.org

Lama Alsafi (13:32): All right. Thank you. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date on our newest episodes of 15 Minutes to Change the world on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and by visiting care.ca/podcast.