WEI at the Pan-African Women in Health Conference, Johannesburg


More than 100 women from within the continent of Africa and across the diaspora participated in the second Pan African Women in Health (PAWH) Conference, held this March in Johannesburg, South Africa. Following its successful inaugural conference in 2018, the second PAWH’s Conference, themed “Balance for Better,” aimed to bring together inspirational and aspirational women in health and to celebrate those whose efforts have led to the transformation of the field. It also provided the opportunity for young African women with career aspirations in health to learn and network with those already in the field. The PAWH mentorship platform was officially launched at the Conference. As well, the conference featured influential women on the Continent, whose work in the field of health and related areas have been exceptional.

WEI Board Member, Dr. Yonette Thomas, gave the keynote lecture on “The Health of Women and Girls in Africa as an Economic Imperative”, presenting the strong case for the interconnectedness of women’s health and economic development and its impact on an individual level, through to institutional and national outcomes. The lecture was followed by a panel discussion (which was also moderated by Dr. Thomas) with Professor Stella Anyangwe, a former Southern Africa WHO representative; PAWH project manager and public health expert, Ms Ramatoulie Jallow; and Ms. Sandhya Singh, non-communicable disease (NCD) head at the South African National Department of Health who drew from their diverse expertise in the health field— in research, government relations, public health community engagement and disaster risk management to discuss the topic. The lecture and discussion resulted in the sharing of critical knowledge and a strong call to action towards realizing women’s health on the continent as an economic value.

The distinguished Ambassador Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe, a former South African ambassador to Tanzania and then Mozambique, with more than thirty years of experience as a prominent African National Congress (ANC) leader during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa gave a special address. Ambassador Thandi implored women to recognize their numerical strength as significant political power that could transform the political will needed to change policies, especially those that elevate women’s health. “You touch a woman, you strike a rock”, she emphasized during her speech.

Women leaders in health including Dr. Sule Burger, Secretary General of the International Association of Student Surgical Societies and Dr. Alice Achieng Ojwang, Nutrition and Dietetic Consultant, the Technical University of Kenya shared their personal and professional journeys. Dr. Ojwang is a member of the WEI-Health core team. Both women reinforced the power of community and the virtue of persistence and hard work to achieve career success.

A networking lunch followed, which segued into a panel discussion on navigating career journeys in the 21st Century as women. The Conference concluded with a 2-hour deep dive session on skill development, where participants in the room received practical steps and advice on how to brand and market themselves. This workshop was facilitated by Donna Rachelson, author, speaker, and entrepreneur.

In all, the first PAWH Conference was a huge success. This conference highlighted PAWH’s goals by creating a space that allowed women to grow through learning, network for impact and equip them with skills and resources to challenge gender norms and beyond.

The Pan African Women in Health (PAWH) is an Africa-based organization that brings together leaders passionate about increasing and improving women’s opportunities and grooming the next generation of female African health leaders and actors. The organization believes in empowering females by connecting women who have a voice to those who aspire to have one. To achieve this, they take on a three-pronged approach—Hear her, Mentor her, and Partner for her. To learn more about the organization, visit www.pawh.org.