WHA75: Women Deliver’s Take on Progress and Pushback on Gender Equality and SRHR
Each year, the World Health Assembly (WHA) brings together Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) to decide on the WHO’s future trajectory and how decision-makers around the world can work together to tackle the world’s most pressing global health challenges.
During this year’s convening — the Assembly’s 75th — the stakes were higher than ever. Heads of state, ministers of health, and global health leaders came together in-person for the first time in three years to discuss, among other key global health issues, how to strengthen health emergencies preparedness and response, as well as to have their say on the WHO’s leadership and how to finance the organization’s crucial work to advance the health and well-being of all people, everywhere. This year’s assembly also brought to the fore key debates on how to improve the global health and care workforce and address the detrimental impacts of the war in Ukraine on health, including on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Women Deliver’s Engagement at WHA75:
Women Deliver advocated at WHA75 — in-person and online — to advance gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women, in all their intersecting identities. Specifically:
· We worked with youth advocates to launch a first-of-its-kind study highlighting the experiences, insights, and perspectives of adolescents and youth on the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SRHR, and held a multi-stakeholder, intergenerational discussion on global and country-level perspectives on the aforementioned research.
· We worked with the Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC and UHC2030, and the broader community of health and rights advocates from around the world, to urge decision-makers to take bold action to create equitable and resilient health systems, including during an interactive dialogue on policy priorities for gender-responsive universal health coverage (UHC). On behalf of the Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, we outlined a set of recommendations to build stronger, equitable, resilient health systems, including by ensuring comprehensive SRHR in benefits packages, mainstreaming a gender perspective, and engaging feminist, women, and youth-led organizations in all aspects of UHC design and implementation.
· We shared a new factsheet, also available in French and Spanish, underscoring why SRHR are integral to transformative and gender-responsive UHC and outlining data tools and advocacy messages to advance SRHR in UHC.
· Through our Non-State Actor status at the WHO, alongside colleagues including the Frontline Health Workers Coalition and Women in Global Health, we joined two constituency statements on human resources for health and women health workers. Moving forward, we will continue to advocate strongly for increased investment in inclusive, equitable, and decent work for all, and particularly for community and women health workers — both of whom are vital to equitable and resilient health systems.
· We also delivered a set of recommendations to address the gendered impact of emergencies, including by ensuring uninterrupted access to the full range of quality SRH services.
A Snapshot of Progress on Gender Equality and SRHR During WHA75:
Across continents and generations, decision-makers and advocates came together to push for progress on gender equality and SRHR. Together, we dialed up global plans and commitments. Throughout WHA75, we witnessed:
· The adoption of a plan to strengthen the global health and care workforce: Working for Health 2022–2030 Action Plan, co-sponsored by over 100 countries, was adopted. The Action Plan uses a gender lens and outlines how the WHO, Member States, and stakeholders can jointly support countries in strengthening their health and care workforce. During discussions prior to the adoption of the Action Plan, global health decision-makers and advocates of all ages from around the world reinforced the need to protect women health workers, provide a gender-sensitive workplace, invest in the SRHR workforce, and ensure decent work, fair pay, safe conditions, freedom from violence, and training and development for all health and care workers.
· United calls for concrete action to protect health in Ukraine: Discussions on the ongoing health emergency in Ukraine resulted in the adoption of a resolution expressing grave concern, including about the increase in gender-based violence and deterioration of sexual and reproductive health within the country. The resolution also calls on Member States to increase support for the WHO- and UN-led responses to address the health needs of the people of Ukraine and refugees in neighboring countries.
· Critical reflection on what needs to be done to prepare for the next pandemic: Member States also adopted the report of the Member States Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies, which provides guidance to improve pandemic preparedness and response.
· Concrete action to sustainably finance the WHO in years to come: Member States adopted recommendations from the Sustainable Financing Working Group, setting in motion a gradual increase in Member State contributions to the World Health Organization. These contributions provide flexible funding and support the realization of critical global health priorities, including those related to gender equality and SRHR.
· The re-appointment of Dr. Tedros: We warmly welcomed the re-appointment of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director-General of the WHO, and look forward to his continued dedication to advancing gender equality and the SRHR of girls and women, in all their intersecting identities.
A Snapshot of Pushback on Gender Equality and SRHR During WHA75:
Unfortunately, important steps forward were also met with pushback and a lack of prioritization:
· Attempts to neglect the health and rights of LGBTQIA+ people in key strategies underscored the critical importance of applying an intersectional lens to policymaking. Specifically, the global health sector strategies (GHSS) on HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections for the period 2022–2030 was weakened due to conservative opposition to concepts related to gender, sexual rights, and sexual orientation. Though not adopted, the GHSS was noted with appreciation.
· Although the next UN High-level Meeting on UHC is scheduled for September 2023, the need to protect and advance SRHR globally as an essential component of UHC, and to realize UHC more generally, though an undertone of some discussions throughout WHA75, was not prominently featured on the Assembly’s overall agenda.
WHA75 had a few clear wins for gender equality and SRHR. Today, we have a pathway to strengthen the health and care workforce, to increase sustainable financing for the WHO, and to better prepare for future health emergencies and those that are ongoing, including in Ukraine. With Dr. Tedros at the helm, we’re hopeful that advancing gender equality and SRHR will continue to remain a top priority for the WHO. Together, throughout the Assembly, we dialed up global plans and commitments to deliver health for all. Now, it’s time to get to work.