Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment through the SDGs

June 20, 2019
By Jane O’Flynn, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health

At the Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH), we would like this year’s Global Health Exchange to serve as a thought leadership event. We wish to raise awareness and understanding of all inequalities pervading the current global health sector. Our focus is to increase the visibility of the underrepresented through strategic dialogue, curated conversations, research and measurable data.
Women play a vital role in the advancement of global health, yet men remain the majority holders of leadership positions. Despite making up 75% of the healthcare workforce, women occupy less than 25% of the most influential leadership positions. Their contribution to health systems is undeniable, yet much of their work is either underpaid or unpaid, leaving women with few opportunities for advancement or to engage in self-care. This creates an inequitable health system that impacts the health of all, subsequently inhibiting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment resulting from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is encouraging. However, women and girls continue to endure discrimination and violence, every day, in each of the worlds’ nations.

According to the 2019 EM2030 SDG Gender Index, 1.4 billion women and girls are living in countries failing on gender equality. A further 1.4 billion live in countries that ‘barely pass’. Even those countries which ranked highest in terms of gender equality have more to do if the SDGs are to be reached by 2030. And no country has reached the ‘last mile’. The report cites ‘equal representation in powerful positions’ as a topic of particular complexity [1]. Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare.

A published article in The Lancet further illustrates the fact that women are not receiving adequate recognition and awards. Since the inception of seven public health and medicine awards from a variety of countries, the odds of women receiving a prize are nine out of one hundred. With the report listing lack of female representation at senior level as a causative factor, women are placed in the precarious situation of not receiving prizes and awards due to lack of senior representation and not obtaining senior positions because of the lack of awards granted [2].

This troubling reality manifests in leaving women and girls more susceptible to the perils of inequality.
SDG 1 seeks to eradicate poverty, more women than men live on less than $1.90 per day.
SDG 3 strives towards good health and well-being, each day there are 830 preventable deaths related to pregnancy and child-birth.

SDG 13 demands urgent action to combat climate change, which affects women disproportionately with many poor rural and indigenous women reliant upon natural resources for their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families whom they support [3].

An unyielding focus on bridging the gender gap, ensuring women are adequately represented, is required if each of the 17 SDGs are to be realised, and only when gender equality is achieved, for everyone, even those ‘furthest behind’, will the SDGs complete their mission.

With this said, there is no time for despondency and tangible improvements are underway in the highest echelons of the global health world. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director- General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has displayed a clear commitment to achieving gender balance and for the first time WHO senior leadership includes representatives from all regions and is 60% female [4]. It is a time of a momentous change for women globally and such victories should not go unnoticed.

This is a multi-faceted complex issue, and it is one we must not shy away from. We, at IFGH, appreciate this fact and are committed to promoting and achieving gender equality and tackling all existing inequalities. Join us in Dublin City University on September 12th, 2019 at our Global Health Exchange Conference. We will be discussing gender equality and women’s empowerment, amongst other key matters, including, sexual reproductive health and rights, global health leadership, health and nutrition and inequalities that affect health.

At IFGH we are resolute in our mission to tackle all inequalities, including gender related issues, and on the path to a fair and equitable society we want everyone to be represented in that pursuit.

6th June 2019


  1. Equal Measures 2030. (2019). Harnessing the Power of Data for Gender Equality – Introducing the 2019 EM2030 SDG Gender Index. Retrieved 06/06/2019 from
  2. Morgan, R., Dhatt, R., Muraya, K., Buse, Kent. & George, A. (2017). Recognition Matters; Only one in ten awards given to women. The Lancet, 389(10088), 2469. Retrieved 06/06/2019 from
  3. United Nations. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals – Knowledge Platform. United Nations, New York. Retrieved 06/06/2019 from
  4. Ravelo, J.L. (Dec 21st, 2017). With new WHO director appointments, women outnumber men in senior leadership. Devex. Retreived 06/06/2019 from




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