A Vision to Bring Gender Equity & the World of Pharmacy Together

A UN sustainable goal includes gender equality, with the aim being to wipe out all discrimination and violence towards women – in every corner of the world. It is recognized that achieving this would benefit every nation – adding to its individual prosperity and sustainability. Moreover, gender equality is a fundamental human right, which means allowing and facilitating equal access to opportunities for men and women. Importantly, this doesn’t mean, or imply that women and men are the same, but that the opportunities and rights open to both should be comparable and should not be based on their gender.

Gender equity refers to the fairness of treatment for both genders according to their needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different; however, it is equivalent in terms of rights, obligations and opportunities.

Discussions on gender equity within the context of health and wellbeing traditionally have been focused on women. We need to include men too! It is also essential to understand how men’s and boys’ broader health and well-being, alongside that of women and girls, helps or hinders in terms of creating enabling environments for improving gender equity.

Men have a key role to play: we need men to advocate the importance of gender equity and to ensure equal opportunities are given to both men and women in instances where there is disparity in gender. Women can’t do this alone.

So, as we turn to look at the world of pharmacy and the pharma workforce, initially the situation looks good for women. Currently the industry is predominantly run by female pharmacists and the proportion of women is set to reach around 72% by 2030. This mirrors the proportion of women in the wider health workforce.

But despite this positive data, in reality women are still not able to fulfil their potential, within pharmacy and there are not enough opportunities opening up for women to empower them to achieve this.

The International Pharmaceutical Federations’ (FiP) workforce data shows that the majority of the global pharmaceutical workforce are women, with year-on-year increases. Promoting equity in the pharmacy workforce is needed to utilize women’s roles to deliver better medicines-related health for all.

FiP’s Pharmaceutical Workforce Development Goal 10 (WDG10 gender and diversity balances) calls for all countries to have clear strategies for addressing gender and diversity inequalities in the pharmaceutical workforce, continued education and training, and career progression opportunities.

To add fuel to the fire, the ‘Delivered by Women, Led by Men’ report highlights major gaps in data and research from low-and middle-income countries on gender and equity dimensions health workforce as well as major gaps in implementation research on impact of policy change

The pharmacy workforce landscape in Pakistan reflects the global workforce data, a fact that regularly concerned me during my official trips to academic institutions and pharmacy chains there. I often only met with and liaised with the male leaders within the profession. Photo opportunities were uncomfortable, having me as the only woman present. All this prompted me to address, finally, the elephant in the room and ask at one such meeting: “Where are the women?”

This then sparked discussions and highlighted the dire need for a collective to support and promote women pharmacists in Pakistan.

I decided to approach the professional body for pharmacists in Pakistan — The Pakistan Pharmacists Association (PPA) — to propose an alliance for women in pharmacy. After much discussion regarding the feasibility and practicalities, the National Alliance for Women in Pharmacy (NAWP) was born, for which I was given the honour of being the founder and patron-in-chief.

We held our launch in Lahore, Pakistan, in April 2019 at the PPA headquarters with over 120 women pharmacists in attendance. A first for Pakistan!

Our vision is to support, enable and recognise women pharmacists in the workplace and to provide a supportive environment and mentorship for the advancement of women leaders. This will then in turn contribute to the sustainability of the pharmaceutical workforce.

Our objectives include:

• To contribute to debate within the profession and health care with a particular focus on women
• To address career and professional development issues
• To provide networking opportunities
• To examine “women in health care” issues
• To provide mentorship opportunities
• To liaise with women in pharmacy globally

We at NAWP are pleased to have collaborated with the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and to have aligned our strategy with FIP’s EquityRx agenda, making Pakistan a pathfinder for gender equity within the pharmaceutical workforce that can lead the way for other countries.

Following our launch, NAWP held their first symposium in October 2019. Within the symposium, I delivered a keynote on ‘Gender Equity in Health Care Workforce -the global and national scenario and need of NAWP’ followed by a panel discussion with inspiring female pharmacy leaders, sharing their stories which led to great engagement and debate with the audience. The event ended with the first ever awards ceremony recognizing female pharmacists in Pakistan.

We have begun discussions with Women in Global Health – Pakistan Chapter; an organization, built on a global movement that brings together all genders and backgrounds to achieve gender equality in global health leadership; to see how NAWP can collaborate with them and align some of our work.

The vision is to bring gender equity and pharmacy together – across the world!

Nadia Bukhari
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