Gender Discrimination and Health Workforce Development: An Advocacy Tool
  • © Photo by Trevor Snapp courtesy of IntraHealth International. Gao Midwifery School, Mali, in 2009.

    Gender discrimination negatively affects health students and faculty.

    This can result in health systems inefficiencies and impact health outcomes, including the quality and availability of services for maternal and child health, HIV, and family planning.

  • © Photo by Trevor Snapp, courtesy of IntraHealth International. Doctor in charge of HIV patients talks with staff at the Esquintla Hospital, Guatemala in 2009.

    Promoting gender equality and equal opportunity helps health professional students and faculty succeed.

    Leaders of governments and educational institutions can support interventions for students and faculty to pursue their academic and professional goals.

  • © Photo by Trevor Snapp courtesy of IntraHealth International. Gao Midwifery School, Mali, in 2009.

    Advocate for gender equality in health workforce education systems.

    A three-phase process can guide you in developing an advocacy strategy for your institution to promote equal opportunity, nondiscrimination, and gender equality in health professional education systems.

Overview and Purpose

“Gender equality and female empowerment are core development objectives, fundamental for the realization of human rights and key to effective and sustainable development outcomes. No society can develop successfully without providing equitable opportunities, resources, and life prospects for males and females so that they can shape their own lives and contribute to their families and communities.”

USAID Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, 2012

The production and development of health workers to overcome these health workforce challenges has been a major focus of many governments’ human resources for health (HRH) strategies. Health professional education systems play a pivotal role to developing competent, motivated health workers who are vital to the delivery of high-quality family planning, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and other essential health services.

“Gender inequalities are systems inefficiencies that contribute to clogged health worker educational pipelines” (Newman 2014, 1). In various contexts around the world, gender discrimination has shown to negatively affect both students and faculty at health professional education institutions, which in turn disrupts the production of health workers. Consider how discrimination due to student pregnancies contributes to higher dropout rates, or how sexual harassment could deter a faculty member from continuing teaching. With fewer health workers at facilities, access to basic services—such as maternal and child health, HIV prevention, treatment and care, and family planning—can be negatively impacted. Having fewer health workers to meet all the health care needs of the surrounding communities also means that the quality of services could be diminished as health workers overextend themselves to meet demand.

Stakeholders from governments and health professional education systems must promote gender equality, equal opportunity, and nondiscrimination to produce robust health workforces able to respond to the needs of the populations they serve.

In education and employment systems, gender discrimination has been directly or indirectly linked to gender stereotyping and discrimination based on caregiver responsibilities, and is manifested in occupational segregation, wage discrimination, and sexual harassment (Newman 2011). Focused on the forms of gender discrimination that affect health professional students and faculty, this tool aims to build capacity and leadership among stakeholders to:

  • Better understand how gender discrimination can negatively impact students and faculty
  • Consider actions that health professional education institutions and governments can implement to promote gender equality
  • Advocate effectively for actions to promote gender equality and nondiscrimination.

Intended users: Ministries of education, deans, administrators and managers from governments and public or private educational institutions, program planners from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other national stakeholders

This tool is part of a series of gender in health and HRH systems:

To learn about gender in the workforce and in health systems in greater depth, consider taking a related eLearning course.

To learn about promoting gender equality in the health workforce, consider reviewing this companion health workforce gender advocacy tool

To imagine if you were a health professional student, play Vital Pursuit.


Background and Sources of Information

This tool is drawn from the CapacityPlus 2012 systematic review, Transforming the Health Worker Pipeline: Interventions to Eliminate Gender Discrimination in Preservice Education (Ng, Newman, and Pacqué-Margolis 2012). The authors compiled over 300 peer-reviewed articles, reports, program documents, and websites from around the world that documented interventions or strategies to counter gender discrimination in higher education. From these resources, 51 specific interventions were identified for review and ranking by an expert panel. The interventions included in this tool are those recommended by expert reviewers, who considered the extent to which the interventions were “gender-transformative.” Gender-transformative approaches are any activities that “actively strive to examine, question, and change rigid gender norms and imbalances of power as a means of reaching health as well as gender equity objectives” (USAID Interagency Gender Working Group).

This accompanying technical brief summarizes the systematic review’s approach.  

How to Use this Tool

This tool can be used to guide ministries of education, deans, administrators, managers, and other users to implement policy, program, and advocacy interventions to counter gender discrimination at health professional education institutions for improved health workforce development. It is recommended that users navigate the site by following the topics on the top menu bar:

UNDERSTAND the effects of gender discrimination

First, understand how gender discrimination is defined and what forms it may take. Read about health professional students’ and faculty members’ experiences with gender discrimination and gender inequalities in health professional education systems. Find out how different forms of discrimination have negatively affected health professional students and faculty through specific country examples and sex-disaggregated data analyses.

Consider interventions for ACTion

On the Act pages, learn about specific interventions and “basic bundles” (combinations) of interventions that are recommended to promote gender equality and equal opportunity and/or to counter specific forms of gender discrimination.

Develop strategies to ADVOCATE for gender equality and equal opportunity

On the Advocate page, find out the steps to take and tips to remember to launch or strengthen advocacy efforts and promote equal opportunity, nondiscrimination, and gender equality in health professional education systems.

Access RESOURCES to learn more about gender discrimination and the health workforce

The Resources page lists key research, organizations and initiatives, eLearning courses, and resource libraries on gender, health professional education, health workforce, and health systems.


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