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Creating the next generation of female leaders in public health

How our Nepal team is breaking gender barriers

22 May 2023

Until 2021, our Nepal Health Sector Support Programme (NHSSP) team was predominantly male, which was indicative of a wider gender imbalance in Nepal’s public health professionals and senior health managers. To address this, the team took intentional steps to recruit a 50:50 male and female team of public health professionals to expand their work across three provinces: Lumbini, Madhesh, and Sudurpaschim.

Can you tell us about yourself and your role and responsibilities as one of NHSSP’s newly recruited public health professionals?

“My name is Asha Chaudhary, and I am a passionate public health professional from Nepal. I have a background in public health and have been working in this field for the past seven years. I joined NHSSP in June 2021 as a Health Systems Strengthening Officer and worked at the local government (palika) level to support the local health section to use evidence to improve better provision of services to the local citizens and improve their health outcomes. In February 2022, I was promoted as the Equity-Based Planning Coordinator to provincial level in Madhesh, where I now focus on supporting the province and local governments to prioritise equity and enable better service access for marginalised populations and incorporate their perspectives into health service planning. Over these years both at the palika and province levels, my main goal has been to support health equity and to make a positive impact on the lives of those in my community.”

What challenges do women working in public health or in leadership roles face in Nepal?

“In Nepal, it is still challenging for women to secure jobs in the public health sector or take on leadership roles due to patriarchal attitudes prevalent in our society. One of the biggest challenges we face is the perception that these jobs are not suitable for women as they require a lot of travel, which can reduce the amount of time we spend with our families. Additionally, women in public health are more likely to face security issues, such as bullying and sexual harassment, as the industry is male dominated. Unfortunately, most women also lack opportunities to build their skills and capacities through training, which can hinder our ability to make informed decisions in leadership roles.  And those of us who do work, also face a ‘double work burden’ as social norm that women are responsible for all household chores has not changed.”

As a woman working in the public health sector, can you share any specific challenges and obstacles you have faced or overcome in your career journey?

“Prior to joining the Options NHSSP team and as beginner in this field, I encountered obstacles in my career. I faced a lack of acceptance as an equal and disrespect from male colleagues in leadership positions. At times I have also encountered bullying and verbal sexual harassment. Despite these challenges, I remain dedicated to advancing in my career and making a positive impact in the field of public health, while also being a voice for women participation in the workforce.

“This shift in recruitment strategy has created an opportunity to develop the next generation of senior women leaders in public health in Nepal. In this article, we speak to one of the women the team recruited to learn more about the impact it has had in her life and career.”

How do you think Options Nepal team’s focus on recruiting more women in leadership roles will impact Nepal’s public health sector and how do you plan to contribute to the development of the next generation of senior women leaders in your current role?

“The programme’s deliberate effort to increase the number of women in leadership positions is paving the way for the next generation of female leaders in public health. This move is crucial because women have an unparalleled insight and understanding of the healthcare needs of their fellow women. Moreover, NHSSP’s evaluation criteria now takes into account gender equality, ensuring that the healthcare workforce prioritises the needs of women.

“By giving women the opportunity to learn both technical and leadership skills, NHSSP is also creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce that can better understand and address the health needs of women and girls in the country.”

“As a newly recruited public health professional, I am excited about the prospect of contributing to the development of the next generation of senior women leaders in public health. Through my role, I hope to mentor and inspire young women and girls who aspire to work in this field and help them develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed.”

What other initiatives or strategies has NHSSP implemented to promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace?

“NHSSP has implemented various initiatives and strategies to promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. There is no discrimination of any type based on either language, caste, class, gender or job designation in the support and remuneration we receive.  Good seating arrangements within the office space that facilitate group discussions and encourage collaboration create a sense of community among team members. Maternity and paternity leave provisions promote gender equality at the workplace. We have also received technical training to build our capacities in epidemiology and biostatistics, which are essential skills for analysing public health data, interpreting research findings, and making evidence-based decisions. Women are always supported and encouraged, and this helps us feel motivated and capable, and we never feel like we are not valued.  We also know that safeguarding is high on the agenda and we always have recourse to safe spaces.”

In your opinion, what are some key strategies or initiatives that can promote gender equality and empower women in the public health sector in Nepal?

“To promote gender equality and empower women in the public health sector in Nepal, we need to increase educational levels of women and provide them with higher and better opportunities. It is also important to implement equity-based recruitment strategies that create jobs specifically for women, thus increasing their representation in the field. In addition, training programmes are needed to upskill women in using technology to manage and analyse health data, budgeting, and strategic planning for better decision-making and prepare them for leadership positions. By doing so, we can create a more equitable and inclusive public health sector in Nepal where women have equal opportunities to succeed and contribute to improving the health outcomes of communities.”

UK aid
Focus areas
Gender Equality Disability and Social Inclusion

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