By Laetitia Meyrueix and Kaylee Helfrich
Women’s Health: A Key Focus of the World Health Organization
Although women have a higher life expectancy than men in most countries, a number of health and social factors combine to create a lower quality of life for women compared to men. Contributors to this lower quality of life include unequal access to information, health care, and basic health practices. Discrimination based on gender increase many health hazards for women, including physical and sexual violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is prioritizing women’s health. This includes strengthening the delivery of, and access to, all services. WHO is particularly interested in sexual and reproductive health issues such as maternal care.
A few key facts on women’s health have caused the WHO to prioritize women’s health:
- Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
- Women represent a majority of people living with HIV
- One in three women are likely to experience physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime
Women’s Health and Maternal Health
Women experience more morbidity than men, meaning they are at increased risk of having a disease. To address the higher rates of morbidity, global initiatives emphasize that women’s health is maternal health. This helps engage those people who care about future generations. Leveraging the importance of women’s health through the scope of maternal health is strategic but can be problematic. The focus on maternal health suggests that women’s health only matters because of the fact that they can reproduce and create the next generation, and this focus does not stress the fact that health is a human right. This is intrinsically problematic, as it removes women’s autonomy over their own bodies, and in essence turns them into human incubators. However, if the phrasing of the issues is changed to focus on improving women’s health for the sake of improving women’s health, then many positive benefits will follow, not the least of which is improved health of offspring for those women who choose to have children. Furthermore, this refocusing may also improve women’s mental health and their status in society.
The importance of available birth control for women’s health
Many women would like to plan for their pregnancies so that they can choose to have children at an optimal time in their life, such as when they are healthy or in a financially stable situation. Women who can access birth control are more likely to have children at a healthy age (not too early and not too late), have children at well-spaced intervals (when a woman becomes pregnant soon after a previous pregnancy, her body may not be fully recovered in terms of nutrients, which can damage her health and that of her children), and have healthier pregnancies. Furthermore, a woman having access to birth control can be very empowering, which can improve other aspects of her health over which she has control.
One very important reason why birth control is important for women’s health is nutrition. Nearly 40% of pregnancies across the world are unplanned. Unplanned pregnancies mean a woman cannot optimize her nutrition before the pregnancy, putting both her and her child in a less than optimal state before beginning pregnancy. Current research is showing the importance of preconception nutrition on child health–this highlights the importance of planning pregnancies.
Look out for “Women’s Health, Preconception Nutrition, and the Right to Choose: Part 2” which will dive further into the topic of preconception nutrition.
Peer reviewed by Kaylee Helfrich