by Dr Galila Esam Al-samawi (Yemen)
Authored by our talented interns, this series provides a window into the workings of UNU-IIGH and the different projects that our interns have contributed to. UNU-IIGH offers a range of internships and fellowships to early-career individuals looking to gain global health experience as well as work placement internships for those who wish to gain programme support experience within a UN agency.
My passion for working with UNU-IIGH comes from my personal experiences and background. In 2017, I decided to enroll in a Master’s in Public Health programme to address pressing global problems like pollution, climate change, inadequate healthcare access, issues fuelling gender equality, and peace. I have always been deeply influenced by my experience in my home country, Yemen, which has been riven by civil war since 2014. This background and further experiences fueled my desire to find solutions for the advancement of society.
Shortly after graduating in early 2020 and completing my Public Health programme, the world suddenly changed as a pandemic emerged and led to nation-wide lockdowns. Similar to a conflict situation, I found many doors locked once more: this time by a hidden war between human beings and a viral disease, COVID-19. This situation motivated and instilled in me a sense of responsibility as a young professional, and made me believe that I needed to be a part of a team that constituted global health specialists offering opportunities to learn more about the disease and how it was affecting global health.
As an aspiring healthcare professional, I was excited for the opportunity to intern with the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), a think tank bringing together experts in global health to collaborate and produce evidence to improve health outcomes.
Before my start as a research intern, I was informed at the interview stage that my work would be remote, and meetings conducted virtually until the pandemic is over. Since this was my first experience working remotely, I expected it to be difficult and challenging, but as time went by, I was surprised by the technological innovations employed to fully manage the institute’s functions, making communication possible and much easier.
“Since this was my first experience working remotely, I expected it to be difficult and challenging, but as time went by, I was surprised by the technological innovations employed to fully manage the institute’s functions, making communication possible and much easier.”
While I engaged with UNU-IIGH during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was delighted to work with the team that contributed to the EPIC Tracker project. I was a member of the EPIC Contributors team, collecting national policies from official government resources regarding COVID-19 intervention.
I was also engaged in the work of the institute’s Pillar Two team, which involved generating research driven by policy-relevant analysis. Our work focused on addressing gender disparities in health. I want to highlight that this focus on gender was evident from the start, not just in the institute’s research but also in the way it works. Before joining as an intern, I was asked to complete mandatory courses as part of my training, and these were designed to promote gender equality in the workplace. This gave me a positive first impression of the institute and was impactful in teaching me that regardless of one’s national origin, we must respect and encourage gender equality to construct a productive and conducive environment free of discrimination, harassment, abuse of authority, and gender inequality.
The UN has committed to mainstream gender across its work which means integrating a gender equality perspective through all stages and levels of policies, programmes, and projects. Although, despite many efforts to do so, progress is still limited. As part of a project related to the generation of policy-relevant analysis focusing on addressing gender disparities in health, I assisted with the audio-transcription of interviews for the institute’s program of work on “What works in Gender and Health”.
Personally, listening to the interviews offered great insight into the inspiring work and effort of agencies all around the world. It highlighted the need to achieve equality and urge all women everywhere to believe in this right. Evidence-based research is the first step to advocating for change and sustainability, but certainly not the last. I see this as useful to my career in gender and health.
Having learned what gender mainstreaming means in other United Nations organisations, I was keen to understand what these terms meant at UNU-IIGH. As an intern, I led an initiative to examine the progress the institute made towards the UNU gender action plan (gender equality). I analysed UNU-IIGH via the lens of ST/SGB/2009/4 (a United Nations Administrative Instruction) and Articles 8 and 101 of the Charter of the United Nations, which together comprise a goal to achieve a 50/50 gender balance of males to females through all levels types of positions in the United Nations.
“As an intern, I led an initiative to examine the progress the institute made towards the UNU gender action plan (gender equality).”
These statutes also take into account the principle of equitable geographical distribution of women from developing and least developed countries, countries with economies in transition, and unrepresented or under-represented Member States. My analysis increased my awareness of gender issues, and evidence revealed that UNU-IIGH is one of the top institutes closest to achieving gender parity within the UNU network (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Gender Parity by UNU Entity
From the UNU Gender Parity Dashboard (8 Dec 2020)
Through participation in meetings, research, and the production of reports, my experience at UNU-IIGH improved my managerial and team management skills; these have, in turn, increased my ability to navigate further in academia. Assisting in organizing webinars and workshops taught me valuable relevant skills and much about global health and research. My interaction with supervisors also taught me many lessons on time management and how to manage my work, inspiring me to understand what kind of supervisor I will be, someday.
As a young female professional, this experience was an opportunity for me to grow. It was encouraging to find out that projects were supported by a team of leading female gender experts and practitioners with diverse experiences in both academia and the UN system. UNU-IIGH is a fine example of women leading global health research activity.
As an aspiring public health researcher, my internship was a highly empowering experience for me on a personal level. It has been a life-changing experience and I am glad I applied to the programme. Going forward, my next step is to continue work towards achieving gender equality and to empower all women and girls with an ambition to achieve all the SDGs (more specifically, SDGs 3, 5, and 16) to make our world a better place to live in.
“As an aspiring public health researcher, my internship was a highly empowering experience for me on a personal level.”
I am deeply thankful to UNU-IIGH and to Professor Pascale Allotey, Director of UNU-IIGH, my supervisors, Dr George Atiim and Dr Claudia Lopes, who conducted the weekly internship meetings, and UNU-IIGH staff who inspired me in my ambitious endeavour to strive for better global health for all.
Dr Galila Esam Al-samawi is a healthcare services professional specializing in dentistry, with experience working in the dental practice industry. She obtained her master’s degree in public health from International Medical University, Malaysia, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree (Faculty of Dentistry) from Sana’a University, Yemen. Dr Galila has worked with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and worked as a university lecturer at Dar Al-Salam International University for Science and Technology (dental school), Yemen. Author of “Oral Health-related Behaviour among Yemenis School Adolescents Living in Klang Valley, Malaysia: A Cross-Sectional Study”, she has participated in international conferences and represented her nation in the Arab Youth Charter (2013).