On March 8, 2018, people around the world celebrated and showed their support for accelerating gender parity on International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Centered on this year’s campaign theme, #PressforProgress, thousands of individuals, businesses, charities, community organizations and others marked the occasion with special events like festivals, concerts and dinners or with collaborative efforts such as videos, to advocate for women’s equality.
While every issue that affects women is important, health is, arguably, one of the most important. This year in observance of International Women’s Day, DrFlaviaBustreo, Assistant Director General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health for the World Health Organization identified the top 10 issues for women’s health:
- Cancer: Two of the most common cancers affecting women are breast and cervical cancers. Detecting both these cancers early is key to keeping women alive and healthy.
- Reproductive health: Sexual and reproductive health problems are responsible for one third of health issues for women between the ages of 15 and 44 years. Unsafe sex is a major risk factor.
- Maternal health: Many women are now benefitting from massive improvements in care during pregnancy and childbirth introduced in the last century. But those benefits do not extend everywhere and in 2013, nearly 300,000 women died from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths could have been prevented, had access to family planning and some basic services been in place.
- HIV: Three decades into the AIDS epidemic, it is young women who bear the brunt of new HIV infections. Too many young women still struggle to protect themselves against sexual transmission of HIV and to get the treatment they require.
- Sexually transmitted infections: It is vital to do a better job of preventing and treating diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, in addition to HIV. Untreated syphilis is responsible for more than 200,000 stillbirths and early fetal deaths every year, and for the deaths of over 90,000 newborns.
- Violence against women: Women can be subject to a range of different forms of violence, but physical and sexual violence – either by a partner or someone else – is particularly insidious. Today, one in three women under 50 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner, or non-partner sexual violence – violence which affects their physical and mental health in the short and long-term.
- Mental health: Evidence suggests that women are more prone than men to experience anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints – physical symptoms that cannot be explained medically. Depression is the most common mental health problem for women and suicide a leading cause of death for women under 60.
- Noncommunicable diseases: In 2012, some 4.7 million women died from noncommunicable diseases before they reached the age of 70. They died as a result of road traffic accidents, harmful use of tobacco, abuse of alcohol, drugs and substances, and obesity — more than 50% of women are overweight in Europe and the Americas. Helping girls and women adopt healthy lifestyles early on is key to a long and healthy life.
- Being young: Adolescent girls face a number of sexual and reproductive health challenges: STIs, HIV, and pregnancy. About 13 million adolescent girls (under 20) give birth every year. Complications from those pregnancies and childbirth are a leading cause of death for those young mothers. Many suffer the consequences of unsafe abortion.
- Getting older: Having often worked in the home, older women may have fewer pensions and benefits, less access to health care and social services than their male counterparts. Combine the greater risk of poverty with other conditions of old age, like dementia, and older women also have a higher risk of abuse and generally, poor health.
It’s vital that women have access to the information and services they need to stay healthy, along with the encouragement to be invested in taking care of themselves. After all, women play a critical role in the well-being of their families, their communities and society as a whole.
So, while it’s important to celebrate and elevate women on International Women’s Day, isn’t it even more important to maintain that focus every day of the year? There’s no better way to start than by taking care of your own health and encouraging the other women in your life to take care of theirs. #PressforProgress by taking care of your health — it’s empowering.