Study: Women still a minority in Kenya's health sector leadership

female doctor

A female doctor attends to a patient. New research has discovered that women hold 42 per cent of mid-level and 40 per cent of top-level leadership positions in the health sector in Kenya.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

New research has discovered that women hold 42 per cent of mid-level and 40 per cent of top-level leadership positions in the health sector in Kenya.

The findings by World Global Health (WGH) titled “The XX paradox” conducted last year in Kenya, India and Nigeria reveals that despite the challenges of a highly patriarchal culture Kenya is slowly making good progress.

However, in Nigeria women face a ‘glass ceiling’ in reaching the most senior roles; around one-third of leadership roles in health organisations are held by women but only five out of 30 national ministers/ commissioners, and only 1 out of 28 Directors of Federal Medical Centers are women.

In India, women average around 28 per cent in leadership roles across national health organisations, except the Nursing Council which has a majority female membership and 75 per cent of women in leadership roles.

“We are at a crisis point. Women will not wait any longer. It is a tragedy for them and a tragedy for us all if we lose committed and highly skilled women health workers. If we truly want to build health systems that serve everyone, we need to redress the inequality that has side-lined women from leadership, and start listening to women,” said Dr Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director and Co-Founder, of Women in Global Health

 “There are cultures which believe very strongly that women should not have leadership roles. And sometimes when you are in a leadership role, and your spouse is not in a leadership role, it already brings some conflict, and it may impact even your interactions in the home. And sometimes women may shy away from taking up those roles,” said a Kenyan doctor.

 “…if you're overwhelmed with all the house chores, and there's no support, then you already are fatigued before you get to work and so you are not able to give your best. So, just being able to share some roles at work or even delegate if there is no support person so that you don't feel overwhelmed so that you have the energy to keep pushing in your leadership position,” said another medical doctor.

 “When you're working with men, when you go to offices as leaders seeking services, sometimes they look at you a certain way like you don’t belong. They look at you like you are a weak species,” said a nurse.

 “...the women you find are the ones being told to serve tea because it's what the society is used to. Even [when] a woman is in a leadership position, they're told they cannot speak too much, you cannot be assertive, just because of the society,” said a Clinical Officer

 “Gender stereotypes still exist in our society and it certainly is a big challenge for every woman leader to break that wall of stereotypes and rise. She needs to prove again and again that she can handle everything right from managing finances to driving a car to holding the top position of a company with absolute perfection, ”said a doctor.

WGH has made broad recommendations and wants governments and employers to remove barriers put in women's ways by creating tailored leadership opportunities for women from marginalized backgrounds who may have missed out on formal education and qualifications among others.