What Works in Gender and Health in the United Nations: Lessons Learned from Cases of Successful Gender Mainstreaming across Five UN Agencies

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  • 2021•12•07     Kuala Lumpur

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    The COVID-19 pandemic, a looming economic crisis, political fragility, and climate change, are eroding progress on hard-won but fragile gains in improving health and addressing gender inequalities. The silver lining of the pandemic is the opportunity it presents to do things differently, with a heightened urgency to learn from past experiences and build on successes. The United Nations (UN) and its agencies are strategically well-placed to provide direction and lead the agenda of gender equality in health.

    This report, by Johanna Riha, TK Sundari Ravindran, George A Atiim, Michelle Remme, and Renu Khanna, presents findings from a collaborative practice-based project which analysed what has worked, where, for whom, why and how, to promote gender equality in health. It is based on 14 successful cases across five UN agencies working institutionally and programmatically in global health. The report presents an in-depth analysis of the contextual factors that enabled success, the triggers that set off change, and the factors that sustained the positive shifts over time.

    Meeting the challenge and opportunity of advancing gender equality in health programmes and institutional structures at this critical point in time requires collective action, building on existing evidence and knowledge. This report makes an important contribution in this regard. The next step is to collectively work towards integrating this evidence into existing health programmes and organisational structures with the ultimate dual goals of improving health and ensuring gender equality.

    Key recommendations

    1. Invest in high-quality, strategically positioned gender experts with decision-making power at headquarters, as well as regional and country offices. These positions should be core funded to ensure their sustainability.
    2. Combine well-crafted organisational mandates with robust accountability mechanisms that publicly track and report outcomes, and support gender equity goals both institutionally and programmatically, and move funding and spending beyond marker allocations.
    3. Identify and seize expected and unexpected changes in contextual factors, such as exceptionally committed senior leadership, savvy gender experts and leaders, strong donor interest, disruption due to crises, positive shifts in strategic advantage, and organisational restructuring, which present opportunities to create more gender-responsive programmes, put gender and health issues on the global agenda, and strengthen institutional practices that prioritise gender equality in health and other programming.

    View the Executive Summary here. Read and download the Full Report here.

    Learn more about our work in Gender and Health.