Promoting women’s leadership in the post-conflict health sector in Cambodia

Cover of the women leadership in Cambodia brief

Women account for the vast majority of the global health workforce, but they are under-represented in leadership positions. Gender inequity restricts entry into the health sector, career progression, access to professional education opportunities, and motivation.

The effects of war

Gender disparities in health leadership are also prevalent in post-conflict settings, where incentives to motivate health workers, particularly women, to continue working during and after a crisis are overlooked. During conflict, abduction, injury, displacement, and lack of support can deter health workers, especially women, from taking on a leadership role.

In Cambodia, civil war and conflict lasted almost 30 years, from 1970 to 1998. Health workers were among the 3.3 million professionals who were executed during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, it is believed that only 40 doctors were left in the country.


Now, after a 20-year period of strengthening the health system and developing human resources for health, over 19,000 people are employed in the health sector in Cambodia. Women make up most of the health workforce, and yet rarely hold senior roles. They have fewer opportunities than men to re-train for new positions.

Only one in five leadership positions in the Ministry of Health are held by women. Just 16% of senior health workers (such as doctors) are female, compared to 100% of midwives. This is problematic for several reasons. Women’s concerns are not reflected in health policies, including human resources for health strategies. Human resource policies, such as those related to career advancement, do not take into account women’s life course events, such as childbearing and childcare. And, finally, in a country where most women prefer to be cared for by female health workers, the shortage of female doctors limits women’s access to health services.

This brief is part of the Building Back Better project.

By Sarah Hyde and Kate Hawkins

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