A group of 15 women health leaders from Southeast Asia are visiting Australia as part of a program to build leadership capacity and networks to address gender inequity.

The women – from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand – are part of the Australian Government-funded Women in Health Leadership Program - Mekong Region.

As part of a broader program, international development organisation The Fred Hollows Foundation and Monash University’s Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) will support the women with knowledge-sharing, leadership development, workshops, training and networking opportunities in Melbourne, Canberra and Shepparton throughout February.

As part of the visit, the women will participate in Monash University’s Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership program, which is led by Dr Mariam Mousa and Professor Helena Teede, and adapted to build skills, motivation and opportunities that strengthen their leadership and the health systems in which they work.

World Health Organization and Women in Global Health research demonstrates the need for stronger investment in women in health leadership. Despite occupying 70 percent of the health workforce globally, women account for just 25 percent of the influential decision-making positions.

Monash University Professor in Women’s Health and Equity Helena Teede said there were many barriers preventing women from influencing public health policy, healthcare service design and driving better health outcomes.

“Key barriers to overcome include the lack of investment in women’s leadership and mentoring, workplace bullying and sexual harassment, perpetuating norms and gender stereotypes, gender pay gap and discrimination.

“A lack of women in leadership contributes globally to women and girls facing greater difficulties accessing health care.

“There is a need for greater equity and diversity in healthcare leadership, because it leads to more equitable health, social justice and healthcare outcomes for women.

“The Australian Government has led with successful policy initiatives such as the National Women’s Health Council and Women’s Economic Equality Task Force. This government funded program allows us to share that commitment and leadership effort,” she said.

The Fred Hollows Foundation Global Advocacy Executive Director Jennifer Gersbeck said the international eye health organisation was committed to using its influence to promote gender equity in health.

Last year, The Foundation joined with UN Women to launch a policy brief to accelerate progress towards gender equity in eye health and ensure no woman is left behind.

Ms Gersbeck said women and girls accounted for 55% of the world’s blind and vision impaired, with the vast majority to these preventable or treatable.

“Better access and more responsive healthcare for women and girls, including in eye health, depends on organisations like The Fred Hollows Foundation supporting women’s leadership in the sector.

“By working together, the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Women in Global Health - Australia and The Foundation are determined to help develop stronger and more inclusive health leadership in the region,” she said.

About the Australia Award Fellowships

Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships, Fellowships and shorts courses funded by the Australian Government. Australia Awards Fellowships build capacity and strengthen partnerships between Australian organisations and partner organisations in eligible developing countries in support of key development and foreign affairs priorities. By providing short-term study, research and professional development opportunities in Australia, mid-career professionals and emerging leaders can tap into Australian expertise, gaining valuable skills and knowledge.