I can’t begin to tell you what a pleasure it is to see you all here on this special day, even if you appear as rectangles on a screen — to see this cohort of impressive women assembled, all of you leaders in every regard, and to see a passionate group of individuals gathered here to celebrate this forward momentum towards a world of equitable health for everyone. In the end, that is why we are here. Our goal is not fairness for women in global health, it is to ensure health equity around the world, and as we all know very well, the only way to get there is to put women where they belong, in leadership positions at global health institutions around the world. Without the essential expertise and life experience of diverse women, the field of global health will be tethered and restrained.
I do not need to remind you of the statistics. If you are here today you know that women improve health outcomes in all settings and yet they are time and again not represented in leadership. They are the majority of healthcare providers and the minority of decision-makers. But today we are taking this problem head-on, and seeing the cohort and audience here tells me we are making significant progress.
WomenLift Health has come a long way. Years ago, I was in Nairobi where all the deans of medical schools in Africa were assembled—and guess what/they were all of one gender-male When I stood and made a comment about this egregious optic all the African women in the room stood to clap. It was clear we had common barriers to discuss and overcome. This culminated in the first Women Leaders in Global Health conference, held here at Stanford University, in 2017. The power of coming together was undeniable. Woman after woman came forward to share her story, bonding with others over common barriers, including lack of mentorship and training, bias and discrimination, unequal pay, difficulties in balancing work and family, and regressive social norms.
Since then, the conference has moved to the UK and Rwanda and last year a virtual one from India. A global movement grew, eventually giving birth to WomenLift Health, which was officially announced last year with generous funding from the Gates Foundation spearheaded by Anita Zaidi there. Today WomenLift Health is moving at breakneck speed, moving the needle with our cohorts and now expanding to regional offices around the world.
Thinking back to the conferences and the power of sharing stories I remember thinking that there was so much opportunity for a collective voice, so much women can do for global health. If I have one word of advice to all the wonderful leaders here today, it is that our cause is communal – uplift yourself and your careers, but bring other women leaders with you on your way. Mentor, cultivate, and pay it forward. We are in it together, and the day we are all allies along with our male colleagues who are enlightened will be the day we have succeeded.