Eyewitness reports: women inspiring women

For International Women’s Day 2024, the Geneva Learning Foundation is sharing a collection of stories by  women health professionals who share messages with their daughters and the wider world.

  • 7 March 2024
  • 8 min read
  • by Ian Jones ,   Charlotte Mbuh
"The Geneva Learning Foundation has just released its latest report Women Inspiring Women to mark International Women's Day". Credit: TGLF
"The Geneva Learning Foundation has just released its latest report Women Inspiring Women to mark International Women's Day". Credit: TGLF


Women make up two thirds of the health and social care workforce worldwide, but only 25% of leadership positions. In some settings, young women may struggle even to acquire the necessary education or the autonomy to make career decisions. Women who have managed to establish careers in the health or humanitarian sectors can therefore play an important role as role models and as a source of advice to young women keen to enter the health or humanitarian fields.

To celebrate International Women's Day 2024, the Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) invited women in its 60,000-strong global network of health workers based in the Global South to share their thoughts on one of two topics: advice they would give to their daughters or other young women contemplating a career in the health or humanitarian sectors, or more general thoughts on the steps that can be taken to ensure women around the world can live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

The contributions were thought-provoking, packed with sound advice, and occasionally greatly moving. Several made direct reference to their own daughters, and how pleased they were to see them following in their own footsteps.

"You definitely have made the right choice to pursue a career in health/humanitarian work. As a health worker I can confirm to you that so many things give satisfaction in life, but none gives so much gratification like being there for people at their worst, when they may not do much for themselves but just look up to you. You don't need to know them. You just need to understand their needs. Go ahead and change the world."

Hellen Osowo | Nurse | Bondo Sub-County, Siaya County, Kenya

The messages stressed how rewarding careers in the health or humanitarian sectors can be. Many contributors were strongly motivated by the desire to help others, and gained rewards from seeing others benefit, particularly those affected by disease or humanitarian crises.

"A career in health needs one to be passionate towards humanity. For me, I loved to wipe tears off people's eyes and take away their pain. That was why I wanted to be a nurse/midwife. I enjoy it because I can serve humanity. So, my advice to my young daughter would be to be passionate towards humanity."

– Obaji Kelechi Victoria | Nurse | FCT Abuja, Nigeria

Women also highlighted the key attributes that they felt were needed by women entering these areas – particularly compassion and empathy. They were keen to stress that these qualities must extend to all groups encountered.

"My advice to my daughter or any young woman wishing to pursue a career in health would be for her to embrace empathy and resilience, always prioritise patient care, community well-being and never underestimate the impact of compassion in health care. Stay curious, continuously learn, and remember that every person you help makes a difference in the world."

Rukaya Mumuni | Public health specialist (MPH) | Ga West Municipal, Ghana

Interestingly, many women did not shy away from pointing out the downsides of a career in the health or humanitarian sectors. It can be a hard slog, with multiple setbacks, and requires great patience, determination and resilience. The rewards, it was frequently pointed out, are typically counted in gratitude and smiles, not cents and dollars.

"Resilience and determination in the face of difficulties will be essential – it is vital not to be deterred or discouraged when faced with setbacks of adversity, which are an inevitability in these spheres. 
Health or humanitarian work is all about people. There may be days where you question your decision ,and that is where determination keeps you going."

Genise Pascal-Ferrer Iglesias | Coordinator of Imaging Services | Goodwill, Dominica

"Pursuing a career in health work is not for the faint-hearted in Malawi. You have to do it because you really love the work, and you will have personal satisfaction. There's a grave shortage of health care workers and few work resources against a multitude of patients. Be prepared to overwork and be creative enough to come up with novel ideas to replace the ideal that cannot be attained in an ideal situation. But it's rewarding when you see patients recover, walk out of the hospital. You will smile and know that you did your best."

Dr Eugenia Norah Chigamane, MBBS, MMed Obgyn | Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology | Lilongwe, Malawi

"I will first ask her what her motivations are, if it is a decision that comes from herself, because it is a demanding and exciting field which sometimes leaves no room for a personal life. She will sometimes have to give more than she thinks she has, her life will sometimes be in danger, and often she will have to resign herself to unbearable situations. But in the end, what better gift than the smile of a child who regains health in a hostile area, far away or forgotten by the health care system, or a woman who regains her dignity after recovery when she thought all hope was lost?"

Dr Célestine Nsi | Pharmacist | Yaounde, Cameroon

Many contributions offered practical advice, based on years of experience in the health and humanitarian sectors. A common message was that young women should believe in themselves and have the courage and confidence to meet challenges head on.

"In the world today, every woman and girl should embrace the mentality that 'I am the one to initiate change for the better future and it begins now.'"

– Milly Namaalwa | Public health specialist (MPH) | Kampala Capital City Authority and Kamuli District, Uganda

"They must be confident by believing in themselves and their abilities: 'I can do it; I can overcome all challenge/obstacles.' They must learn how to speak up with boldness: your voice matters, it can advocate, and can make a huge difference that will drive positive change."

 – Jacdonmi Gbubemi Roselyn | Public health specialist (MPH) | Khomas, Namibia

At the same time, it is important not to overdo it. Self-care is equally important – not just to protect one's health and well-being, but to ensure that women can continue to provide the quality of services that individuals and communities deserve.

"Remember self-care is essential to maintaining your influence rather than a luxury. And know that the world needs your special brand of bravery and generosity. Your voice matters. Your acts have power. So go and change the world."

Adunola Abosede Oyegoke | Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

As well as offering much sensible practical advice to young women, many contributions highlighted some of the steps that need to be taken to create a more equal world for women. Education for women was seen as key, and a route to a fulfilling career. The different perspectives provided by women were also seen an important reason to ensure their voices are heard when decisions are made about the future.

"Women as mothers are the first teachers; in their homes they are the first peacemakers and also mitigation strategists in the face of unfavourable climate conditions. They would do all to ensure the safety and well-being of their loved ones. It is with this in mind that I am certain that women's involvement in strategic planning and decision-making at all levels is indispensable, if we are to hand over a better world to future generations."

Anon | Community health worker | Ebolowa HD, Cameroon

But one of the most telling messages was one of women supporting other women. Despite progress, women still face challenges and barriers related to the gender. Many women are committed to supporting young women and helping them overcome these barriers, particularly their own daughters. As one contributor put it:

"My Dear Anam, your late grandmother brought me up with the saying, 'Empowered women empower women.' Ever since you were born, I kept you with me in all my philanthropic activities. As an infant you accompanied me in the first ever school health and hygiene programme for schoolgirls in adolescence in all public and private schools at Lahore in 2002. Later you visited many mobile service unit (MCH) camps in the hard-to-reach under-developed rural areas of Kasur District. In your school years, you attended my training sessions as observer for mid-level health care providers of remote districts. You stood by me in women entrepreneurship workshops as a volunteer. You joined medical college to assist me in my personal endeavour of our free primary health care centre to serve our neighbourhood. You are devoting your beautiful years of girlhood in long study hours to become a rehab physician for poor physically disabled children. I wish you all the blessings, happiness and success in life. Someday, you will write a similar letter to your own daughter saying, 'Empowered women empower women.'"

– Dr Faiza Rabbani | Public health specialist (MPH) | Lahore District, Punjab Province, Pakistan

For young women reading the messages, they can therefore draw inspiration from the indomitable spirit of women health workers worldwide.

"Take a look at all these countries where there are all these crises, both humanitarian and socio-political. Who cares about the well-being of the family? Who braves all these dangers on a daily basis to find food for the children? In short... she's the woman! The brave woman! 
So, I urge you to arm yourself with all these assets to make your dream come true. Take the example of all these female doctors: Marie Curie, Virginie Apgar, Bibiane Koné (the first female doctor and gynaecologist in Burkina Faso) and you will be able to make your dream come true.

Never give up in the face of obstacles and difficulties, because there is always a positive point in every situation we go through, and we must know how to exploit it to move forward. And if all these assets are crowned with a healthy life both in spirit and in lifestyle, success will be assured. So, courage, courage and more courage!"

Kinda Ida Louise | Midwife | Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

"Women inspiring women", a collection of stories by women health professionals, is available via this link: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10783218.

Learn more about women who deliver vaccines https://www.learning.foundation/iwd