Promoting women’s leadership in the post-conflict health sector in Cambodia

Research on gender equity in human resource management for health in post-conflict settings is limited. To fill the gap in the evidence base, ReBUILD and RinGs, carried out qualitative research on women's leadership in the health sector in Battambang province, Cambodia.

Hyde S. and Hawkins K. , 2017
Institution: 
RinGs

Although women account for the vast majority of the global health workforce, they are under-represented in leadership positions. Gender inequity in the workforce can restrict entry into the health sector, career progression, access to professional education opportunities, and motivation.

Gender disparities in health leadership are also prevalent in post-conflict settings, where incentives to motivate health workers, particularly women, to continue working during and after a crisis have been overlooked. During conflict, abduction, injury, displacement, and lack of support can deter health workers, especially women, from taking on a leadership role. In Cambodia, civil war and conflict lasted almost 30 years, from 1970 to 1998. Health workers were among the 3.3 million professionals who were executed during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, it is believed that only 40 doctors were left in the country.

Now, after a 20-year period of strengthening the health system and developing human resources for health (HRH), over 19,000 people are employed in the health sector in Cambodia. Women make up most of the health workforce, and yet rarely hold senior roles, and have fewer opportunities than men to re-train for new positions. Only one in five leadership positions in the Ministry of Health are held by women. Just 16% of senior health workers (such as doctors) are female, compared to 100% of midwives. This is problematic for several reasons. Women’s concerns, for example, are not reflected in health policies, including HRH strategies. Human resource policies, such as those related to career advancement, do not take into account women’s life course events, such as childbearing and childcare. And, finally, in a country where most women prefer to be cared for by female health workers, the shortage of female doctors limits women’s access to health services.

Policy brief | Health workforce