Around the world, women make 75 percent of the health workforce and continue to be the primary caretakers in communities and families. They also experience heightened health risks.

This is thanks to persistent gender-based violence and stigma that prevents access to preventive care and treatment. Despite these realities, women occupy fewer than 25 percent of leadership roles in the health sector.

Adanna Chukwuma, Karen Maniraho, and Favorite Iradukunda are slaying the game when it comes to demonstrating that young women of African descent can lead – and are leading – the global health equity movement.

As Global Health Corps (GHC) alumni, these ladies are committed to playing their part in realizing health as a human right for all. 

GHC’s Brittany Cesarini caught up with these ladies to learn about how they’re crafting their own unique leadership journeys. And how they are disrupting the status quo in global health leadership along the way.  


Adanna Chukwuma

Why do you think we need more women leaders in global health?

Adanna: There is overwhelming evidence that diversity of team membership and leadership promotes creativity and productivity in teams. Therefore, increasing the proportion of female leaders in global health will increase our effectiveness at addressing the pressing health problems we face.

One can also make an ethical argument. We know that bias partly shapes the gaps between male-female representation in leadership. This bias does not always reflect performance. It may be a matter of discomfort with the idea of women in leadership. This is a wrong that must be righted.

Karen: Health and who has access to it will always be a discussion of power. Without women in positions of power, we cannot tackle the systemic inequalities that affect women and our communities.

Favorite: I think this is a matter of logic and holding true to what we believe. If global health values equity, equality, and social justice, if we are advocating for these values for other people. Doesn’t it make sense to start at home?

Where is equality and justice, when women make up to 75% of the healthcare workforce but occupy less than 25% of the leadership positions?

We are all leaders and learners - @favourtieiradukunda Click To Tweet

What lessons did you learn from the Women Leaders in Global Health conference at Stanford University last October?

Adanna: In one session at the conference, Laurie Garrett and Agnes Binagwaho shared personal stories about the bias they encountered and overcame to excel in their careers. Their conversation stuck with me because of the understanding that excellence can be female, and it can be black African.

A paraphrased version of my favorite quote, uttered by Laurie Garrett, is: 

Women need to shove their modesty through the back door. There are billions of lives at stake - @Laurie_Garrett Click To Tweet

Karen: It was quite inspiring to hear Dr. Afaf Meleis talk about the ways “women are vulnerable and at risk in their productive and reproductive lives.” 

There was also a panel titled “How to Become a Change Agent in Global Health” moderated by Donna Shalala. It featuring Ambassador Deborah Birx, Patricia Garcia, and Vanessa Kerry, among others.

They all so candidly discussed successes and the importance of failures in their global health journeys in refreshingly honest ways.

Favorite: Dr. Afaf Meleis brought up the issue of missing nurses. Nurses are continuously under-represented in global health leadership. They have also missed out on discussions meaningful to the advancement of healthcare, yet we all know that nurses are the backbone of healthcare.

Karen Maniraho

What advice can you give young women aspiring to have leadership roles in global health and to those supporting them? 

Adanna: We can start where we are to influence the gender imbalance in global health in the right direction by challenging ourselves to take risks and more responsibility in our careers. 

Karen: 1. Mentoring at least one girl will help change the status of women in leadership today. Secondly, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, failure is something we should celebrate. 3. Don’t “lean in” if it’s only to replicate male models.

Our work as women leaders can’t simply be about breaking the glass ceiling. Rather, it must be about rebuilding the whole building so that its doors are open to all. 

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. — Marianne Williamson Click To Tweet

Favorite: We have a lot of female leaders in global health, yet they are not considered as leaders because we measure their leadership abilities against a biased definition of leadership.

We need to redefine leadership and not be intimidated by all the biased definitions out there. We need to realize that women are not just leaders but also innovators. 

Favorite Iradukunda

How are you committing to investing in your own professional development as a young leader in global health?

Adanna: I recently joined a Lean In Circle primarily so that I can be intentional about confronting my fears, taking career risks, and developing strategies for dealing with bias.

Karen: After my Global Health Corps fellowship in Burundi, that I realized elevating underrepresented voices through storytelling had a key role in amplifying health conversations. Also, reconnecting with my homeland and working with people taught me innovative ways of communicating health and social needs.  

Favorite: I have always considered professional growth as a result of receiving and giving. receiving 2. giving. My mentors’ help in achieving my goals is part of the receiving.  

With regards to giving, I have invested in younger women. However, I need to redefine my mentorship strategies to be more intentional with clear expectations and deliverables on both sides.

Have the courage to use your own reason - Karen Click To Tweet.

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