Breaking Barriers to Close the Gender Gap in Health Supply Chain Management

May 23, 2024

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Supply chain management has historically been perceived as a male-dominated workforce, with men occupying the majority of management roles in distribution and warehousing. This perception, alongside limited educational opportunities, has made it more difficult for women to gain entry or advance in the supply chain industry.  

Nevertheless, women are increasingly becoming supply chain professionals and executives across the globe.  

According to a Gartner Survey 2022 women comprise 39 percent of the world’s supply chain workforce and make up 34 percent of first-line managers and 19 percent of senior executives. While this is progress, it indicates that women are less represented in senior management or executive roles. For the supply chain to be inclusive, progress needs to be made within individual countries to harness the dividends of such an enterprise.  

“When I oversaw the pharmaceutical sector at the [Luanda Sanatorium] Hospital, they never had a woman in this post, so it was a challenge to make sure they followed my lead and respected me as a leader. The male-dominated environment made it difficult to execute my duties effectively,” said Dr. Sandra da Silva, Head of Logistics Activities, National Malaria Control Program, National Directorate of Public Health  

According to the Global Gender Benchmarking Angola has one of the highest labour participation rates for women—ranking 10th in the world as of 2022. However, due to other factors, such as wage equality, years in school, and financial inclusion, Angola is ranked 125th out of 145 countries in its progress to closing the gender gap.  

Men dominate the country’s health supply chain, with women often excluded from leadership roles due to cultural biases—such as the perception that only men can perform certain jobs — and lack of access to education and training.  

Understanding this disparity, the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program - Procurement and Supply Management (GHSC-PSM) project advocated to the Angolan Ministry of Health for more women to be trained in logistics and supply chain management and given equal opportunities for promotion to leadership positions.  

One of the winning arguments in this advocacy was that GHSC-PSM’s supply chain advisors comprised mostly women.  

The first round of change happened in 2019 when GHSC-PSM supported the Ministry of Health in conducting a workshop that caused a series of actions to promote equal opportunities for women in health supply chain management.  

The first action was to form a gender technical working group in the Ministry of Health.  

This team had one mission— to promote gender equality and equity in the management of the health supply chain in Angola by creating opportunities for women to be trained and fostering conversations to address biases, such as the perception that women are not fit to perform specific roles in the supply chain.  

With technical support from GHSC-PSM, the gender technical working group created and launched the Gender Transformative Approach to Healthcare in Angola — an initiative to promote women’s inclusion in the health supply chain system.  

Angola’s Gender Transformative Approach to Health Care is an initiative by the Angolan Ministry of Health designed to create opportunities for health sector stakeholders to challenge gender norms and address unequal power structures that disadvantage women in the management of the health supply chain system.  

Its purpose is to create an environment inclusive of women in leadership positions at every step of the health supply chain cycle, from the selection of health products to their distribution.  

This was then followed up by the deliberate creation of opportunities for women to make career transitions into leadership positions in the health supply chain. GHSC-PSM developed a 12-month postgraduate integrated supply chain management course (also known as GICAS in Portuguese) and provided technical support to the Angolan National Institute of Public Health to deliver the course to 34 public health sector professionals, 25 of whom were women.  

This formal training provided students with a certification in supply chain management tools and best practices, and a safe space to break biases and challenge inequitable gender norms about women’s participation as managers and decision makers.  

“During the course, we learned that the attribution of functions must be given equally without any discrimination based on gender, but by meritocracy.” - Dr. Sandra da Silva was one of the beneficiaries of the training.  

Dr. da Silva has worked at the Sanatorium Hospital’s pharmaceutical unit for many years. After completing the GICAS course, the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) recruited her as the Head of Logistics Activities. In her new role, Dr. da Silva trains and supervises healthcare staff and oversees distribution planning to ensure medicines are delivered at the right time to the right people.  

“After the course, other colleagues and I were integrated into the Ministry of Health, one of them as head of the Medicines Warehouse in the province of Luanda” - Dr. Catarina Alexandre, Head of Logistics for Reproductive Health, National Directorate of Public Health.  

For Dr. Catarina Alexandre, the GICAS course was a pivotal turning point in her career. Before taking the course, Dr. Alexandre was a Clinical Analyst at the National Directorate of Public Health. After completing the course, she went on to lead commodity logistics for family planning in the Department of Reproductive Health.  

“When there was no manager for reproductive health products, there was a lot of disorganization in the area. Now that I've taken the lead, I can organize things, and this is reflected in commodity security” - Dr. Catarina Alexandre 

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