Image: Heroines of Health 2019 Gala in Geneva, Switzerland, May 2019. Courtesy of Women in Global Health

Recognizing Remarkable Women and their Contributions Towards Health for All

Universal Health Coverage is a nation’s promise to its people that health is a fundamental right. And on UHC Day today, the focus is on leaders keeping the promises they made in September at the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC in a political declaration on UHC—the most comprehensive set of health commitments ever agreed to at this level. Increased political will and resources are essential—but UHC is not just a job for governments.

The political declaration has historical significance. It builds on the WHO’s 1946 constitution, which envisages “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” Human rights and access to quality health care have always been intertwined. However, to keep the promise of achieving health for all people, national health programs must be driven by local leadership. Consistent with last week’s Landscape Symposium hosted by the Global Health Council, we at Women in Global Health believe that we must #DemocratizeGlobalHealth. To us, that means local partners, especially women, must drive the necessary change for gender equity matters and positively influence local, regional, and global health policies related to UHC. We must reconsider the role of women and their communities in health.

Why does the gender dimension matter when it comes to UHC? For 2 main reasons: gender norms and power structures still impede girls and women’s access to health care. Women make up 70% of the global health workforce and contribute nearly $3 trillion to the health and social sector. They are the leaders and drivers of health in their communities—and without them, UHC will not be possible.

2020 will bring several key moments with the power to advance gender equality and empower women and girls. The global community will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). It is also the “Year of the Nurse and midwife,” honoring the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Designated by WHO and member states, this theme promotes nursing and midwifery as key elements to achieve UHC. Finally, a 5-year milestone will be reached toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

All of these events provide opportunities to advocate for UHC and to recognize and elevate women leaders in health. Honoring the accomplishments of these women is a key priority for us and our partners. To date, we have presented awards to 29 “Heroines of Health,” who have had a tremendous impact on shaping the future of global health and deserve to be heard. We will continue to recognize remarkable women and their achievements—and we will pass the microphone to them.

We will not achieve UHC with the status quo. We must listen, learn, and act based on the recommendations from implementers on the frontlines. Yes, politicians must keep their promises. But we must also give voice to local partners, especially women. This is the only way we will succeed in bringing health to all people.


Roopa Dhatt is co-founder & executive director of Women in Global Health. Kate Dodson is vice president for Global Health Strategy at the United Nations Foundation.

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Image: Heroines of Health 2019 Gala in Geneva, Switzerland, May 2019. Courtesy of Women in Global Health