International Women’s Day on March 8 is an opportunity to celebrate the roles mothers, sisters, daughters and wives play in our lives, but it is also a chance to highlight the journey that has seen women win the right to vote, the right to drive, and most recently the right to say no to sexual harassment. It is also an opportunity to recognize that while women are recognised as the primary caregivers worldwide, they do not always receive the level of care they need or deserve. To mark International Women’s Day, we ask the question: if women are caring for us, who is caring for them?
At home, women are the primary caregivers, making decisions about the health of their children, ensuring they follow a healthy diet, receive their vaccinations on time, and take their medicine. And it is usually women who assume responsibility for the care and health of their parents and grandparents as they grow older.
In the professional world, women make up at least half of frontline staff working in health systems around the world1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but what about their own health?
Women’s Health Globally
Sexuality and procreation play a vital role in women's health, yet problems accessing sexual health support are common worldwide. It is, however, a particular problem in poorer countries, where health services in general are inadequate.
The numbers are striking: almost 99% of maternal deaths and 90% of infant deaths occur in the developing world, according to the WHO2 , while complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading killer of women aged 15 to 19 years old3.
Worldwide, more than 10,000 babies and 1,600 women die every day from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In the 21st century most of these deaths are avoidable. Working to reduce the number of deaths is the Midwives for Life program which was set up by Sanofi Espoir Foundation in partnership with the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). Its goal is to fight maternal and neonatal mortality by improving training and support for midwives in developing countries.
Difficulties accessing reproductive support such as contraception, abortion, and counselling services also remain widespread: every year, an estimated 23 million girls aged under 19 become pregnant in developing countries.
However, this lack of reproductive health support is not limited to the developing world, but is a worldwide concern.
Other areas of sexual health also require more attention. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, remain a major concern for women. This is especially true in Africa, which is home to 80% of all HIV-positive women worldwide4. Here, there is an ongoing need to improve access to HIV education, testing and antiretroviral therapy.
A 360° Perspective
Focusing on women’s health also involves looking at various influencers that can impact it negatively such as sexual harassment at home, at work and in the community. WHO estimates that 30% of women worldwide experience sexual or physical violence at the hands of a male partner, with one in five girls sexually abused before her fifteenth birthday. In cases such as these, women are robbed of control of their lives and control of their health.
Other areas where more support is needed to ensure women thrive include mental health, the diagnosis and management of chronic and non-communicable diseases, healthcare affordability, and help for single mothers. Fifteen per cent of families in the European Union (EU) are now made up of single parents with children, according to the EU5. In France and Latvia, one in five families count only one parent, while in the UK this figure is 21%. Denmark has the highest proportion of single parent families at 30%. Single parents are at an increased risk of poverty and have reduced access to highly skilled and well-paid jobs, according to the Stronger Families Initiative, funded by the European Commission. Overwhelmingly, these single parents are women6.