Rebecca J. Cook

Larry Gostin’s book, Global Health Law, moves us to envision a world in which global health law and governance play a more effective role in reducing gross global health inequities. In so instructing and inspiring us, he gives an insightful overview of the existing international legal landscape, how the law strives to contribute to the elimination of global health inequities, and how it might be improved to do a better job at achieving health equity. Gostin helpfully defines global health law as the study and practice of international law—both hard law (e.g., treaties that bind states) and soft instruments (e.g., codes of practice negotiated by states)—that shapes norms, processes, and institutions to attain the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for the world’s population. Normatively, the field seeks innovative ways to mobilize resources, set priorities, coordinate activities, monitor progress, create incentives, and ensure accountability among a proliferation of global health actors. The value of social justice infuses the field, striving for health equity for the world’s most disadvantaged people. (p. 59-60) The aim of my short comment on this book is exploratory: to sketch how global health law might build on accomplishments to date to advance health equity for women. My argument is that global health law and governance have to be far more deliberate in addressing gendered health disparities in order to achieve health equity generally and health equity for women. That is, governments have an obligation to set gender health equity as a policy objective and to take the steps necessary to achieve it as a policy outcome.