Heather Mumford, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Archivist, and Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine, recently attended the launch of The Lancet’s report “Women and Health: the key for sustainable development,” at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The report was created by the 15-member Commission on Women and Health, a partnership between The Lancet, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Women and Health Initiative, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
The launch featured comments by several Harvard experts including: Julio Frenk, Dean of the School of Public Health, Ana Langer, Professor of Public Health and Coordinator of the Dean’s Special Initiative on Women and Health, Paula A. Johnson, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Women’s Health and Gender at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Felicia Knaul, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, and Jeni Klugman, lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Other speakers included Afaf Meleis of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Ruth Bonita of the University of Auckland, Justine Davies of The Lancet, and Mariam Claeson of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Speakers emphasized that gender inequality continues to be a global problem; this inequality inhibits progress and potential for a variety of stakeholders on a global scale. Health inequities manifest in many ways. For example, addressing women’s health has historically been reduced to reproductive health, while poverty, urbanization, non-communicable diseases and chronic disease disproportionately affect women. Furthermore, women are not solely consumers of health, but are also health providers, often with little to no training, compensation, or recognition. Although women are represented in the workforce, medical professions, and academia, the demand for women to provide domestic work and care outside of their employment to family members has not changed and effectively convolutes a work-life balance.
Gender inequality disenfranchises women, even in wealthy countries. Marginalization and inequity is present in politics, higher education, and other fields. The report concludes that all sustainability goals should be gender-specific and measurable, and that gender equity committees (such as Harvard Medical School’s own Joint Committee on the Status of Women) continue to be necessary to prevent and combat marginalization. Addressing women and health, acknowledging and compensating women as consumers and deliverers of healthcare, and investing in all stages of women’s health throughout life will benefit global economies at large.
The conclusions of the report were underscored by the speakers’ dedication to interdisciplinary work to solve medical, scientific, public health, and economic problems, a mission integral to the Center’s own acquisitions guidelines. We are committed to acquiring, preserving, and making available historic materials to provide context and perspective to the history of medicine, including documenting the developments, experiences, and contributions of public health pioneers and women leaders in medicine. As archivists, we aspire to be responsible and informed stewards of our historic collections, so attending events like this launch are necessary to understanding the contemporary contexts of our collections.
“Women and Health: the key for sustainable development” is available to read online at The Lancet’s website.