Authors: Preetika Banerjee, Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center; Ipsita Bhattacharjee, Regional Medical Advisor for Women’s Health at a leading…
Women’s Health: Beyond Just Absence of Disease
Author: Jyotika Rimal works as an Advocacy Officer at Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management Partners’ Alliance (MHMPA) Nepal.
Every time a woman dies from a preventable disease, there is uproar of how it was possible to save her but instead how she became a target of negligence. It is important to understand that this negligence comes from many actors involved in the woman’s life – her family, the overall healthcare system of the country, reluctance towards treatment and lastly, the society that she lives in. Factors like socio-cultural dynamics, power hierarchy and financial independence often play an important role while women make decisions of their health.
Many women from Lower-and-Middle Income Countries often neglect their health because of certain unequal power dynamics between men and women. This often leads to women focusing on other areas of their lives and keeping health as an overall separate entity that needs to be dealt later at free time.
More than “Reproductive Health”
When decisions about women’s health are being made, it is mostly made by others – policymakers, healthcare workers and other experts, most of who are men. Women are hardly consulted while making decisions about their health often resulting in many important areas being missed.
The notion that women’s health is mostly “reproductive health” also often outweighs other kinds of health problems that women regularly face. Nepal’s “Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act, 2018” focuses mostly ONLY on reproductive issues of women and not much about other health issues. Similarly, there is a lot of research done about menstruation – since it falls under women’s reproductive age. However, research on menopause is very limited and outdated.
Similarly, a study of Ghanian women about their health has shown that when talking about their health, reproductive health is hardly a concern for them. However, these women mostly focused on their mental health and how it plays an impact on their overall physical health. The study also explains how because of unequal distribution of labour, they are not able to prioritize their health.
Socio-Cultural Dynamics of Women’s Health
In her book, “Outrage to Courage”, Anne Firth Murray writes, “Women’s health cannot be understood or improved without understanding the contextual relationship – the subordination of women, poverty and violence, resulting in unequal access to education, food, health care and paid employment”.
Gender-based violence and domestic violence often play a crucial role when talking about women’s health in Africa and South Asia. A recent study suggests that in Africa, 44% women face gender-based violence. Similarly, in South Asia, the prevalence of lifetime intimate partner violence is 35% higher than the global average. It is important to note down that these forms of violence often result in serious physical health and a lifelong scar in mental health of women.
There is an urgent need to acknowledge the fact that every country is different, and that even inside every country, there are many communities. Until and unless we understand the contextual setting and socio-cultural aspect of any community, it is impossible to change the way we look at women’s health. Merely not having any disease is NOT what women’s health is all about.
Women’s Health is Human Rights
It is very important to look at women’s health through the lens of human rights. Women as human beings have the right to have good and sound health. They deserve to live life and receive treatment like anyone else. Although healthcare is advancing in many countries, there are still few places where basic healthcare is unavailable, and dure to this, in many instances, it is the women who have to suffer. When we look at things through a basic human rights approach, we see that there should be no forms of discrimination. However, women’s health is often an area of discrimination, due to caste, class and in some cases, a desire for a son.
Women’s health is mostly related to how much control they have over not just one but all aspects of their lives. Therefore, for women to have control over their lives, there is a need to focus on many areas but most importantly through socio-economic and cultural aspects.