Gender Discrimination and Health Workforce Development: An Advocacy Tool

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.