International Women’s Day
On March 8, 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day for the first time. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030. The day is a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women throughout history and across nations. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The MEASURE Evaluation project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), recognizes gender parity as a core value and a cross-cutting issue for all of its health activities. In honor of this day, we asked two of our gender experts to talk about their work and the differences they see in attention paid to women in developing countries. Here are excerpts from that conversation with Jessica Fehringer, MHS, PhD, who serves as the gender portfolio manager, and Brittany Iskarpatyoti, MPH, who is the gender research advisor.
Why is it important to focus on helping women?
Brittany Iskarpatyoti (BI): Women’s empowerment reverberates into society. Women often make household decisions and choices for their families. If they have money or control over money, they are more likely to spend it on their children for better nutrition. That makes better families, stronger societies, and more peaceful nations.
Jessica Fehringer (JF): When you think about it, why would you not engage one-half of the population? I’ve seen attention to women’s rights improve over the 16 years since I was in Peace Corps in Malawi. In Peace Corps, we were just starting, but since then people began recognizing about HIV in general that gender-based violence (GVB) and inequitable gender norms were fueling the HIV epidemic.
BI: I was also in Peace Corps (Namibia) but I started when attention was beginning to be paid to male engagement and girls’ empowerment, so for me it was always a starting point. We need to think of it as a global health issue and a health security issue. It’s critical to health security because the burden of care for Ebola and, recently, Zika, falls to women. But it’s also important to global security to engage women in policy and decision making. That will help lead to more stability in governments.
What’s the difference between gender issues and women’s issues?
BI: Gender is the vine that entwines all issues. It’s foundational. It’s hard to separate it out.
JF: In addition to gender [issues]—which also impact men—International Women’s Day goes along with the idea of women’s empowerment and recognizing that women do need attention and support in global health. It’s good that anywhere you go, people understand there are unfair gender norms, and public health programs are typically asked to address them.
BI: But not all of those program impacts have been as clear as others.
JF: Yes, research findings on this initially were mixed: For example, if you increase women’s economic power, what changes in the power relationships in the household?
BI: What we do know is that women’s empowerment cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Evidence from some programs that were implemented in the 1990s shows that when men weren’t constructively engaged in women’s economic empowerment programs there was increased violence in the household.
JF: Yes, because empowerment can be viewed as taking something away from men. There is an assumption that men have more power, or should have more power. Everything is to a male standard, from the size of a fire truck ladder, to the height of a countertop, to the size of car seats, and even the dosages for medicines. And when you challenge that, there can be negative repercussions for women and girls.
BI: This imbalance is important in health, as women encounter the health system more often [than men]. They have pregnancy, birth, child care, care after gender-based violence, and—in conflict—women are used as weapons of war.
JF: So we need to empower women, but be mindful of how we are doing this.
What are the positive gains that have been made for women’s health and empowerment?
BI: I think we are doing a better job of looking at girls and how they progress into womanhood; and trying to capture data on that in a more granular level to improve programming.
JF: I agree. In general there is increasing attention to the gaps in data for women and girls and a growing movement to address these.
For more information
MEASURE Evaluation works in many areas to address gender disparity and to improve health and opportunities for women and girls. To find out more, see these selected resources:
- Making Gender Count
- Gender and Health Data and Statistics
- Gender M&E Online Course
- Gender Tools: Indicators and Guides
- How MEASURE Evaluation Supports DREAMS
- Gender Counts: A Systematic Review
- Guidelines for Integrating Gender into an M&E Framework
- Botswana PEPFAR Gender Analysis
- Scale-up Strategy for a Gender-Integrated Health Governance Project
- Transforming Gender Norms, Roles, and Power Dynamics
- Gender Inequality and the Risk of HIV among Married Couples