Equal opportunity, equal work: increasing women's participation in the U.S. President's malaria initiative Africa indoor residual spraying project

Abigail Donner, Allison Belemvire, Ben Johns, Keith Mangam, Elana Fiekowsky, Jayleen Gunn, Mary Hayden, Kacey Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: One of the primary control measures for malaria transmission is indoor residual spraying (IRS). Historically, few women have worked in IRS programs, despite the income-generating potential. Increasing women's roles in IRS requires understanding the barriers to women's participation and implementing measures to address them. The U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project is the largest implementer of IRS globally. To address gender inequity in IRS operations, PMI AIRS assessed the barriers to the participation of women and developed and implemented policies to address these barriers. Methods: The PMI AIRS Project initially identified barriers through a series of informal assessments with key stakeholders. PMI AIRS then implemented a series of gender-guided policies, starting in 2015, in Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The policies included adapting physical work environments to ensure privacy for women; ensuring the safety of women in the workplace; guaranteeing safety and job security of women during pregnancy; and encouraging qualified women to apply for supervisory positions. The project collected routine programmatic data on staff, spray quality, and spray efficiency; data from 2012 through the end of 2015 were analyzed (up through 1 year after implementation of the gender policies). In addition, PMI AIRS conducted surveys in 2015, 2016, and 2017 before and after the spray campaigns in 4 countries to determine changes in gender norms among spray operators through questions about decision making and agency. Results: The PMI AIRS Project increased women's employment with the program. Specifically, women's employment increased overall from 23% in 2012 to 29% in 2015, with a 2015 range from 16% (Mali) to 40% (Madagascar). Growth among supervisor roles was even stronger, with the percentage of women in supervisory roles increasing from 17% in 2012 to 46% in 2015, with a 2015 range from 9% (Mali) to 50% (Madagascar). While the data showed that in most countries women sprayed fewer houses per day than men in 2015, the differences were not meaningful, ranging from 0.1 to 1.2 households per day. Gender norms shifted toward more egalitarian views in 2 of the 4 countries with survey data. Conclusion: Preliminary results suggest the PMI AIRS Project gender policies are increasing the engagement of women in all aspects of spray operations, especially in supervisory roles. Expansion of these policies to all countries implementing IRS and to malaria control implementation more broadly is recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-616
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Health Science and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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