I‘ve written about my support for a great global health network that advances gender equality – https://www.womeningh.org – before (and how the network also inspires and supports me). There are other organizations and networks in this area that are also doing fabulous work (e.g. on data, on sexual reproductive rights, or gender equality or women’s leadership more broadly), but I particularly like the combination of a focus on global health, and the network culture of Women in Global Health. It‘s open and inclusive, constructive, and celebrates people who are often left out of the global health limelight (in particular youth and health workers).
Women in Global Health has attracted great interest among – not surprisingly – women working in global health. But it also has several prominent male supporters. The German network (called a „chapter“) was launched by the then State Secretary (male) of the German Federal Health Ministry. The World Health Organization‘s Director General Dr. Tedros is a supporter, and actively engages with the network to strengthen gender equality in health and also in his own organization. And the CEO of Amref Africa is a frequent guest and supporter, just to name a few more prominent „male allies“.
Engaging in women‘s networks does therefore not exclude engaging with men. Men may, however, feel more deterred identifying as a network „member“, even if they are equally keen to advance the equality agenda. And having (many) men engage in what are considered „safe space“ trainings or meetings (e.g. where women can raise concerns or cases that are specific to their gender) may deter some women from participating.
What‘s most important, in my view, is to view a network as complementary to other relationships. For example in my case, Women in Global Health is a network that brings me together with fascinating women from different fields of health, united by a cause I find important (gender equality).
In Germany, two of my own mentors are actively engaged in the network, and I have taken on a mentoring role for younger colleagues. But if I look at my global health network more broadly, many of my most trusted colleagues – and many who inspire me – are also men. I call them and meet them when I need guidance, and we‘ve over the years helped each other when there‘s been a need.
Some of the people who inspired me to work in global health, and have been great mentors, are men. There are many women too, but both have been important in my career and personal growth.
Engaging in women‘s networks has opened up an opportunity to engage again more with young women. In particular in international organizations that have extremely competitive application processes and requirements of experience, I‘ve missed engaging with fresh or recent graduates, or students. They have so much to offer, in terms of fresh ideas and tough questions, and a very different sense of urgency (sadly, cynicism in our work or sector, or a degree of dulling down and towing the line does seem to set in after a few years of work for many people).
What I do hope, though, is that younger men also look for (female) role models and mentors. I often see men chatting with their male mentors. With women this is more mixed (although the #metoo cases and concerns may have made male mentoring of young women more complicated). I can‘t think of many women who mentor men, aside from where there has been a supervisory relationship through e.g. a degree.
Hopefully those mixed mentoring and networking experiences are happening at all levels. Because there‘s one thing I very strongly believe in: gender equality needs to include everyone. At senior leadership levels, in middle management, and from university to how we school and raise girls and boys.
For women working in global health, I do encourage you to join a https://www.womeningh.org event or chapter meeting. And make sure you keep engaging with men – and inviting them to engage – on this issue as well. For men, take a look at your own leadership and staffing at all levels, and seek a female mentor or champion, and offer your active engagement.
In global health, we already work in such a fragmented, siloed environment. We need to ensure this area of equality and women‘s networks does not become such a silo for engagement as well.