Special series aims to advance women’s health and gender equality.
Progress on gender equality has been made in all 12 key areas identified in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Women – but for millions of girls and women
around the world today, this visionary agenda is still far from reality.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has commissioned a special series of papers on “Women’s Health and Gender Inequalities” with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Human Reproduction Programme (HRP) and the United Nations
University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH).
Launched at the World Health Summit, the series reflects on priorities articulated twenty-five years ago for improving women’s health, and asks: what has been learned, and what still needs to change?
Critical areas of concern for women’s health and gender equality
The Beijing Declaration affirmed that women’s rights are human rights and that gender equality is an essential building block for health, well-being, development and peace.
The topics covered in the BMJ series, include a broad range of social and medical factors influencing women’s health, such as sexual and reproductive health; violence against women, mental health, noncommunicable diseases, climate change, limited
inclusion of women’s specific health needs in clinical research and the role of the feminist movement in women’s health.
This series also includes a co-authored opinion piece by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Uneven progress and emerging threats to women’s health
Progress in women’s health remains fragile and uneven. While progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality and harmful gender practices such as female genital mutilation, millions of women still continue to have an unmet need for contraception.
Rising rates of reproductive cancers, mental ill-health, non-communicable diseases and new disease outbreaks including Ebola, Zika and COVID-19, are highlighting the need to have a comprehensive approach to women’s health throughout their life-course.
While there is a greater recognition of women as providers of healthcare, many face an unacceptable level of harassment, violence and abuse in the workplace.
Access to health services for millions of women remains limited even as countries are moving to a progressive realization of universal health coverage. In part, this is linked to an emphasis on employment-based health financing, which excludes women,
who tend to work in informal sectors.
The impact of COVID-19
In the midst of tracking progress on the Beijing Declaration, the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting or reversing gains made towards gender equality. While women and men seem to be infected by COVID-19 in roughly equal numbers, women health workers, who are the majority of frontline providers, are at increased risk of infection.
COVID-19 has brought rising economic insecurity, driving millions, especially women who work in informal sectors, into unemployment. Lockdown measures have increased the already high burden of unpaid care work shouldered by women, including caring for
children, the sick, and the elderly. And distancing measures have increased violence against women and children – a widespread issue even before the pandemic.
Many governments are reprioritizing what health services are provided in the context of COVID-19 and unfortunately scaling back access to essential services for women – including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, which includes services
for survivors of violence.
An urgent call to action: Invest in women’s health
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Rector of UN University David Malone, argue in their opinion piece that, “Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-imagine a future where women’s
health and rights are non-negotiable, gender equality is achievable and working towards it is the norm.”
The health, well-being and needs of half the world’s population cannot be treated as an afterthought. Investing in women’s health is a moral and smart imperative. It saves lives, reduces poverty, increases productivity and stimulates economic
growth with up to a nine-fold return on investment.
WHO is committed to the Beijing Declaration and is marking the 25th anniversary with a number of activities.
Read the BMJ series. Additional papers will be added in March 202