HEARD hosted a webinar on gender dynamics in health interventions presented by Dr Elizabeth Wamera, a WASH specialist at UNICEF West and Central African region. The webinar was part of the ongoing series designed to offer PhD students an opportunity to engage critically in public health-related topics and debates that range beyond their specialist research subjects.

Health development initiatives are planned to reach the masses to improve general health and wellbeing. However, “what is considered masses, communities, citizens, societies or patients are intricately stratified due to the gender dynamics that affect the quality of the process, outcomes and impacts of the health development intervention,” said Dr Wamera. She further cautioned the audience about thinking of gender as synonymous to women. She pointed out that when gender is linked to women, it can lead to “inadequate attention on how gender interacts with other dimensions of social stratification”. Advising HEARD’s PhD students, Dr Wamera said that for a comprehensive and precise explanation of gender in health statuses, they needed to consider employing gender-related concepts, models or theories in their respective research topics.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities that exist in low-income countries and brought to light the gender inequalities due to gendered interventions—something quite explicit in Bangladesh. This is where Dr Wamera shared her in-depth knowledge of a public health intervention that left women behind. She described particularly the screening of Covid-19 in Bangladesh. Describing the context, Dr Wamera described how the methods used for the screening process—collecting data using mobile phones to trace cases—failed to take account of the fact that in Bangladesh, men were the phone owners and head of households. As a result, screeners interviewed more men than women because from the onset of the intervention screeners were told to speak to the head of households. As such, women statistically reported fewer Covid-19 cases compared to men. Here, Dr Wamera further cautioned against making statistical presentations of data in the absence of context, particularly gender contexts.

One of the most effective ways of ensuring no one is left behind in health interventions is to appreciate the various gender dynamics that exist in every facet of the various health interventions being promoted, said Dr Wamera.

Dr Wamera emphasised to the PhD students that as they focus on conceiving approaches to problems within the area of public health, they must first establish the origins of the problem and affect progressive social change. When Dr Wamera was asked how those new to the field could engage the communities to push for social change, Dr Wamera advised that it was important to first take on research with sensitivity and vigilance to gain trust from the community. She also emphasised the importance of understanding that when the researcher visits the community, the researcher is not the authority on change but instead has to engage communities in ways they can fully embrace and sustain.