PAHO head committed to gender equality
WASHINGTON – Dominican-born director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne, says she is “proud to recommit all of us at PAHO to doing everything we can to advance gender equality, especially in health”.
“That means ensuring we have the data we need to bring light to gender disparities in health,” said Etienne in her message to mark International Women’s’ Day, that is being observed on Sunday. “It means supporting our countries’ efforts to address those disparities through evidence-based public health action.
“It means using a gender equality framework to strengthen health systems and services,” she added. “And last but by no means least, it means empowering women to be major drivers and beneficiaries of our region’s advancement toward universal health.”
Etienne noted that, since her childhood, things have changed a great deal for the better, not only in my native Dominica but throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean, and around the world. She noted that last year, in Dominica, there were zero deaths associated with pregnancy or childbirth.
In the Caribbean as a whole, the PAHO director said women’s life expectancy is more than 20 years higher today than it was in the 1950s.
“These are gains that we should all celebrate on International Women’s Day, March 8,” she said, adding that many factors have contributed to this progress.
Etienne said one of the more important factors is the “enormously expanded decision-making power women now have in society, government and, in particular, health”.
She said she has seen firsthand how empowering disadvantaged women in her own country led to positive changes in the way health services are organised and delivered, “becoming more accessible and better addressing women’s health needs”.
“Having women rise to the highest levels in ministries of health and other key positions has contributed to improvements in health not just for women and girls but for men and boys as well,” she said. “Why? Perhaps because women throughout human history have had unique responsibilities that give them a unique appreciation of what is needed to protect and improve health and well-being for all.
“I believe it is self-evident that achieving gender equality would be a win-win for everyone,” Etienne added. “But we still have a long way to go.”
She said far too many women – especially those from disadvantaged groups and backgrounds – still lack the decision-making power they need to protect the health and well-being of themselves and their families.
“Far too many still lack the economic power and social status they need to escape abusive environments or to live securely and comfortably through old age,” Etienne said. “In this sense, our glass is still half empty.”