Karolina Nyberger, Chair of the Swedish chapter of Women in Global Health (WGH)
Why do we need a network focusing on women in global health?
“More than 70 per cent of work within healthcare is carried out by women, but there are still far too few female decision-makers – only about 25 per cent in senior roles – with the power to influence this sector,” says Karolina Nyberger who is a surgeon at Karolinska University Hospital while also engaged in research at the Karolinska Institute.
Female health workers contribute an estimated $3 trillion to our Gross World Product, of which almost half is unrecognized and unpaid. Furthermore, women, more than men, are recruited for unpaid roles in health and expected to provide care and domestic work for their families. Since the majority of those in top management within healthcare still are men women’s voices are getting heard less.
“This is one of the things that the network is working to change. Data and facts are available about the current situation, not least within the World Health Organisation, and now we want to spread the message that we need to act. By 2025 our goal is that at least 50 percent of decision-makers within the healthcare sector will be women.”
For Karolina Nyberger, Chair of Women in Global Health Sweden, it’s natural to get involved in these issues. In total, WGH can be found in 40 countries and different regions globally.
“Issues of global health and gender equality are close to my heart, and in a network consisting of passionate and knowledgeable people I can work on both. My ambition is to create an important platform which recognises the women who work so hard in the fields of medicine and health. It’s no hardship to work for such a cause.”
WGH Sweden has an active Board of Directors with varying responsibilities, a senior advisory board and student co-ordinator. She says that over the years SIGHT has inspired WGH Sweden in its work with a student network in global health and with UN Agenda 2030.”
”Our network represents staff on many different levels and different expertise. It’s particularly valuable for individuals to exchange experiences with both junior and senior experts from widely different backgrounds.”
For Karolina, highlights from previous years include collaborations between Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation (Sida) celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife and the Global Financing Facility at the World Bank. Another example is the joint webinar in March with the Centre for Global Health at the University of Oslo, ‘to evaluate response plans, public health measures and the need for robust policies in support of women’s empowerment during pandemics.’
“WGH networks from Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland and Norway participated in discussions on recovery from the pandemic from a gender equality perspective.
How do you think the pandemic and the war in Ukraine with the resulting refugee crisis affect women, from the perspective of global health?
“Clearly, questions about women’s role in global health are even more to the fore during the pandemic and the war. It’s mostly women who have worked in healthcare during the pandemic and it’s also women who’ve stayed at home to look after children. We’ve also seen that healthcare equipment is not adapted to women, presumably because they haven’t been included in decision-making.”
“I fear that during the pandemic and the war, progress made on women’s health and on equality within both the healthcare sector and the daily life has been reversed. At the same time, signs are that domestic violence and sexual abuse have increased during the pandemic. Additionally, it has highlighted the need for safe and decent working conditions since women are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, compounded by exhaustion and mental stress.”
Karolina Nyberger believes that Sweden has an important role to play in the global WGH network in bringing about change and finding ways to hold accountable those who keep women outside decision-making in healthcare. Sweden’s role is especially important in spreading values concerning women’s rights and in promoting a female foreign policy.
“You can’t exclude those who work with these questions every day,” says Karolina. She adds that this applies not only to issues of gender, but also to different minority perspectives which are also needed when decisions are being made. Together we need to mobilize, advocate for change, gather commitment and hold leaders accountable.”
Karolina considers that collaboration within the Swedish Networks for Global Health is important.
”We can learn a lot from each other. I believe we can be inspired by each other’s experiences and by other sectors including NGO’s, students, Sida and the private sector.”
”I hope that our network can grow and that we find new partners who will strengthen female leadership in global health and increase the focus on the amazing work women are doing in various areas of healthcare in different parts of the world.”