Advancing gender equality and health equity are concurrent priorities of the Ethiopian health sector. While gender is regarded as an important determinant of health, there is a paucity of literature that considers the interface between how these two priorities are pursued.
This article explores how government stakeholders understand gender issues (gender barriers and roles) in the promotion of maternal, newborn and child health equity in Ethiopia.
Adopting an exploratory qualitative case study design, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 purposively-selected stakeholders working in leadership positions with the Federal Ministry of Health and Federal Ministry of Women and Children Affairs as part of a larger study regarding the promotion of health equity in maternal, newborn and child health. A post hoc content and thematic sub-analysis was done to explore how participants raised gender issues in conversations about health equity.
Efforts to address gender inequalities were synonymous with the promotion of a women’s health agenda, which was largely oriented towards promoting health service use. Men were predominant decision makers with regards to women’s health and health care seeking in both public and private spheres. Participants reported persisting gender-related barriers to health stemming from traditional gender roles, and noted the increased inclusion of women in the health workforce since the introduction of the Health Extension Program.
The framing of gender as a women’s health issue, advanced through patriarchal structures, does little to elevate the status of women, or promote power differentials that contribute to health inequity. Encouraging leadership roles for women as health decision makers and redressing certain gender-based norms, attitudes, practices and discrimination are possible ways forward in re-orienting gender equality efforts to align with the promotion of health equity.