A group of leading academics have called for a new, feminist approach to equality and global health, which goes further than addressing inequality through gender quotas

The research, co-authored by Professor Sophie Harman from Queen Mary University of London, advocates that a feminist agenda is vital to move gender equality forward.

According to the paper, Why It Must Be a Feminist Global Health Agenda, published in a special edition of The Lancet, feminist leadership is about much more than addressing gender quotas. It was written by Sara E Davies, Sophie Harman, Rashida Manjoo, Maria Tanyag and Clare Wenham, and includes both formal and informal cultural change, which is needed within institutions across global health governance.

The study highlights that gender bias is prevalent when it comes to global health, since women predominantly occupy unpaid roles as caregivers and health workers. In addition, the researchers advocate that gender inequality cannot be tackled unless wider issues such as race and socio-economic inequality are also addressed.

The researchers call for inclusive participation and data collection in order to expose, recognise and address the informal and hidden ways in which inequality takes place. Rather than using solely scientific methods for data collection, they argue that future research should include both qualitative and quantitative methods in order to capture the full breadth of work happening in global health.

Professor Sophie Harman said: “Recognition of women and gender in global health is long overdue. Feminists have been asking the big questions about female inclusion and gender for decades. Global health can learn a lot from feminist research to answer some of the pressing questions facing the field.”

Other papers published in The Lancer‘s special ‘Advancing women in science, medicine and global health’ edition include: The good, the bad and the ugly of implicit bias, Factors affecting sex-related reporting in medical research: a cross-disciplinary bibliometric analysis, and Applying feminist theory to medical education.

The Lancet’s editorial for this edition, Feminism is for Everybody, states:

It is well established that women are under-represented in positions of power and leadership, undervalued, and experience discrimination and gender-based violence in scientific and health disciplines across the world. Intersectional approaches have provided insights into how other categories of difference such as ethnicity, class, geography, disability, and sexuality interact with gender to compound inequalities.

Malika Sharma explains how the “historical gendering of medicine prioritises particular types of knowledge (and ways of producing that knowledge), and creates barriers for critical, and specifically feminist, research and practice”. Feminist and other critical perspectives enable researchers to question the underlying assumptions that produce and maintain social hierarchies, and in doing so, imagine ways to transform fields and practices to make them more equitable and inclusive.

Likewise, Sara Davies and colleagues argue that a feminist research agenda is key to advancing gender equality in global health, and Kopano Ratele and colleagues explain why efforts to engage men in advancing gender equality must be grounded in an appreciation of theories of masculinity.

You can read this special edition of The Lancet in full here.