Source: Scoop, 8 March 2017
On International Women's Day (8 March), the World Health
Organization (WHO) will focus on the powerful link between gender
equality and health and well-being.
Public health efforts for women used to focus mainly on
pregnancy and childbirth. Now gender, equity and human rights
concerns are woven into every aspect of WHO's work in the Western
"International Women's Day is a great opportunity to challenge
the unequal systems and practices that perpetuate health
inequalities," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for
the Western Pacific.
Gender equality is a priority for WHO because it affects health
in many ways across the Region, which is home to nearly 1.9 billion
people, or more than a quarter of the world's population.
When women are educated, they and their families have better
health and well-being. Studies in Cambodia and the Philippines, for
example, show that children under 5 years of age with more educated
mothers are measurably healthier.
"We must take comprehensive action to ensure that women and
girls reach the highest attainable standard of health and
well-being. This is important for women, and for families and the
broader community, because gender equality benefits all of us," he
By considering gender, equity and human rights at every stage,
health programmes can be designed to meet the needs of everyone -
women and girls, men and boys. This makes programmes more
effective, producing more sustainable health results, according to
This approach to development - focused on leaving no one behind
- underlies the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will
guide global development until 2030. SDG 5 calls for gender
equality, both to advance women's human rights, and also as a
driver of development and poverty reduction.
"One-size-fits-all approaches to health do not benefit all
people equitably," explained Dr Shin. "Among certain groups,
inequity may even increase. Therefore, health programmes need to be
tailored to the specific needs of various groups."
To mark International Women's Day, the WHO Regional Office is
releasing a preview of a report with success stories from the
Region on advancing health through attention to gender, equity and
The report, scheduled to be published later this year, contains
these stories, among others:
• How carefully considering the needs and preferences of those
left behind, such as women and girls, can improve access to water,
sanitation and hygiene in the Philippines;
• How empowering women with negotiation skills in China can
create smoke-free homes that benefit entire families; and
• How focusing on the needs of disadvantaged groups and remote
communities led to greater acceptance of polio vaccination efforts
in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and helped to reduce
barriers to accessing health services in Mongolia.
Since 1975, International Women's Day has celebrated the
economic, political and social achievements of women with a renewed
call for gender equality and empowerment. This year's theme
channels the spirit of the SDGs: Women in the Changing World of
Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.
"As we mark the International Women's Day today, I want to
acknowledge what we have achieved together in the Western Pacific
Region with the participation of women and men, boys and girls from
diverse population groups," said Dr Shin.
"But gender equality really must be promoted every day, not just
today," he concluded.
Advancing Health through Attention to Gender, Equity and Human
Rights: summary of stories