My career path
"My passion is ending discrimination and changing the situation of women and girls so that they can fulfil their potential and live happy and healthy lives, free of violence"
I am a doctor specialized in public health and I work at WHO in Geneva, in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research.
My work involves supporting the development of public policies and programmes to address violence against women and to safeguard women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. This includes doing research and building evidence on what approaches work best when it comes to preventing and responding to violence against women, developing public health standards and working with health ministries to expand access to and the quality of services for women (and children) subjected to violence, and sexual and reproductive health services. What motivates me is seeing the increased awareness and commitment to ending violence against women, seeing the impact of the work that I, colleagues and partners do, and knowing that I have been able to make a difference in many areas.
My passion. Ending discrimination and changing the situation of women and girls so that they can fulfil their potential and live happy and healthy lives, free of violence.
I have become increasingly convinced of the urgent need to work with children at the earliest stages, to build resilience, address trauma and violence, and ensure they can grow up to be healthy, peace-loving citizens of the world.
My career path. I studied medicine in Mexico City and did my social service in a very poor and remote rural area, which opened my eyes to the limitations of my medical training, as it did not address the most common health problems associated with poverty. I worked at the National University in family and preventive medicine and then got a British Council grant and went to do a master’s of science in community medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
After graduating, I joined Oxfam UK and went to work in Ethiopia, which at the time was in the midst of war and famine. Then I joined the Oxfam Health Unit in England. For eight years, I was fortunate to work on developing and evaluating primary health programmes in Africa and Latin America, with a focus on maternal and child health, and HIV and AIDS. This helped to increase my awareness of the impact of gender inequality on women’s health and lives, so I then joined a women’s health and rights organization and spent three years working on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which was a life-changing experience. Just before the Beijing Conference, I joined WHO to lead work on women’s health and developed the WHO position paper for the conference, which identified violence against women as one of the top ten health priorities for women and introduced the concept of gender mainstreaming. I coordinated the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence. And I am still working on violence against women : conducting research, developing health standards, and helping countries to strengthen their health-system response to violence against women. I also advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment and work to ensure that health programmes do not promote harmful gender stereotypes.
I am supported by the wonderful team of women with whom I work – they are intelligent, competent, committed and passionate – as well as by my group of close women friends and my partner.
I’m proud of the work I have done with multiple partners on violence against women and that this work has contributed to getting this issue recognized as a public health problem. I’m also proud of the growing number of young women – several of whom I have mentored – who are dedicated to this work. And I’m proud of my children, who are both growing up to be compassionate people committed to contributing to improving the world.
I love walking in the mountains and being out in nature – it brings me peace and calm (and offsets my natural temperament). I also love reading because it takes me to other places, other lives, and different settings and emotions. And I love music of all kinds – from classic and jazz to rock and folk, and everything in between. I love my family and watching my children grow and make their own experiences, learn from them and move forward.
The many well-known and less-known women who stand up against injustice, speak the truth to those in power and have contributed to making the world a better place for me, my children and for all of humanity. And the men who support them too.
I have had many favourite books over the years. At the moment, I am reading and enjoying the last of the 4 Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. As a child I loved The Sound of Music (Robert Wise). In general, I love films that are based on real people and events, particularly those featuring people who have stood up to – and often overcome – great obstacles and disadvantage. For example, Selma (Ava DuVernay), Suffragette (Sarah Gavron) and On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder).
My mother, who had to fight with her father to be allowed to go to university and who managed to have both a career and a family, which was not the norm for her generation.
A ceramic pot. (I love ceramic pots and would love to collect one from each country I visit, but I stop myself now.)
Orange/coral or royal blue
To go walking in the Himalayas and visit near and far-off places (I have a list). I would love to learn to make pottery and to play the piano. And, if there is time left, to write a novel.