“Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of this right is vital to their life and well-being their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life.”
Beijing Platform for Action 1995
Women’s right to health lies at the heart of development. If their well-being is being undermined then so is the health of the whole community. A healthy mother means healthy children and a healthy workforce. Without this in place poverty cannot be eradicated. There are many ways in which women’s health may be compromised by the society in which they live.
Violence in the home is tolerated in many societies and often seen to be a private matter. One in three women will suffer some form of violence in her lifetime. Only when it is identified as being a public concern, supported by the necessary legal framework and support network, will women be able to live with the confidence that their physical safety is being upheld. New dimensions include the global trafficking of women and girl. Additionally, violence against women is a major factor fuelling the spread of HIV among women, whether it takes place domestically or during armed conflict.
Many people from a developing country - especially women and girls - are attracted to jobs in a foreign country as a means to provide income. Traffickers recruit victims through false advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues and casual friendships. Illiteracy and poverty makes women especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Once they arrive, victims may be put in cramped conditions; their travel or identity documents may be taken away; and they or their families are threatened if they do not cooperate. Women and girls may be forced to work as prostitutes and blackmailed by the threat that traffickers will tell their families. They are also threatened with the fear of deportation.
To combat this exploitation there needs to be legislative reform and awareness raising. Victims need to be counselled and supported. They also need to be assured of physical protection should they give evidence.
In Africa, where the AIDS epidemic is most severe, young women are three times more likely to be infected than young men. Women are generally less informed than men about how to protect themselves; and what they do know they are not always able to implement in the face of violence or coercion. Legislation, counselling groups and community work are needed to help women and men build a safer community.
The provision of good primary health care is fundamental to good health. Many countries struggle to provide this and development initiatives are essential to support this work. Unfortunately, even if there are good health care clinics locally, local culture may limit women in their access for a variety of reasons:
It is necessary that health clinics offer equal access to women and men. The impact of local culture needs to be considered and challenged so that women can receive the full benefits of available primary health care.