25 June 2021

Time to make women’s and girls’ right to health a reality through universal health coverage

An open message to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris

From The Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, (co-convened by Women in Global Health, Women DeliverSpectra Rwanda and Sama India), the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and UHC2030 with its Civil Society Engagement Mechanism

In September 2019, at the United Nations High-Level Meeting (UN HLM) “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World”, world leaders committed to the most ambitious and comprehensive political declaration on health in history. The commitment recognized the fundamental importance of universal health coverage (UHC), including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), for achieving healthy lives and well-being (SDG3) and all other goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Acting on the commitment to UHC can accelerate progress towards gender equality and advance women’s and girls’ rights.  As world leaders, civil society organizations, youth, activists, advocates, and partners come together to announce ambitious investments and policies to advance gender equality at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, we call on stakeholders to use this moment to not only recommit to achieving UHC but also to guarantee that gender equality and women’s and girls’ health and rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), are central in UHC plans and in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

UHC means that everyone, everywhere, in all their intersecting identities, has access to quality health services without financial hardship. Gender is a key determinant of health, and gender inequality leads to increased health risks for women and girls globally. Gender identity not only affects the scope of health needs and outcomes of care, but also holds implications for how health systems plan and implement programs.

Women and girls, particularly those most marginalised, face multiple barriers to accessing health services, and this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The delivery of essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, has been disrupted and resources reallocated, with vital services such as maternal and reproductive services classified as non-essential. This puts women and adolescents at higher risk of death, disease and disability from preventable causes. This is why we cannot achieve gender equality without ensuring women’s and girls’ right to health.

UHC will not be achieved anywhere without addressing gender inequality and women’s leadership in the health system. Indeed, women make up around 70% of the essential global health workforce but hold only 25% of senior-level roles.[1]Strengthening health systems to achieve UHC requires investing attention and resources in a health workforce that is well-trained, well-resourced and supported at all levels. As women continue to protect our health at the frontline and in communities, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, we must ensure supportive legal, social and economic frameworks for the health workforce to achieve gender equality. Women’s welfare and empowerment are non-negotiable to achieve both gender equality and UHC.

The harsh reality is that many UHC processes still do not consider gender, resulting in vulnerable individuals still being left behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequities – including gender inequities – that keep us from achieving health for all. It has also reminded us that health is everyone’s business and responsibility, and that we will only be successful if all of us pull our weight and work together in solidarity, across borders. The Generation Equality Forum will convene while the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, and world leaders and decision makers must seize this moment to demonstrate that they are prepared to turn words into action and prioritize UHC with gender equality at its core.

How can Member States prioritize UHC to advance gender equality, women’s rights and leadership?

  • By ensuring access for women and girls and addressing all aspects of health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. And access is needed for ALL women and girls, in all their intersecting identities, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, race, class, disability, Indigeneity and other identity factors.
  • By including women in leadership and decision-making, leveraging women’s knowledge and perspectives and investing in women leaders who, as the majority of health workers, can and will deliver UHC.
  • By promoting gender-responsive health systems approaches that meet the needs of all genders, including women, men and non binary people throughout their life course.
  • By taking action on UHC commitments even during the  COVID-19 crisis, as  a successful response and recovery must ensure that everyone, everywhere is covered by proven public health measures and appropriate health care, including safefuarding SRHR.

You can help advocate for action on the commitment to UHC by:

  1. Disseminating UHC key messages to governments, decision-makers and international organisations participating in the Generation Equality Forum.
  2. Petitioning your government to take meaningful action on gender-responsive, gender-inclusive UHC, with gender equality and women’s and girls’ health and rights at its centre.
  3. Ensuring that gender-responsive, gender-inclusive UHC is central to all post-pandemic rebuilding and future pandemic preparedness.
  4. ​​Joining the broader UHC movement, such as through campaigns on UHC Day every year on 12 December, and in the lead-up to the next UN High-Level Meeting on UHC in 2023.

Learn more:


[1] https://www.who.int/hrh/resources/en_exec-summ_delivered-by-women-led-by-men.pdf?ua=1

Categories: Leave no one behind, Gender

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