WHO strategy highlights challenges and way forward for women’s health

Although women in the WHO European Region generally have longer life expectancy than men, they also spend more years in ill health. The quality of life and well-being they experience is often unsatisfactory and there are also health inequities within and between countries in the Region. To unlock enormous gains, reduce inequalities and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), women and girls must be able to fully realize their right to health with a focus on gender-specific needs.

On 11 May 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark, over 500 international students and practitioners gathered to participate in a panel discussion on "global and local health challenges and opportunities for women and girls". This was a lead event for the Women Deliver Conference held in Copenhagen on 16–19 May 2016. Isabel Yordi Aguirre, Technical Officer for Gender and Health at WHO/Europe, shared insights at the event into issues and opportunities in the European Region.

In her commentary, Isabel Yordi Aguirre highlighted key challenges such as the need for transformation of health systems to better meet the needs of women. "There must be a broader focus on women's health that, while ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health, looks at women's health beyond their role as mothers," she said. For example, cardiovascular disease (CVD), often thought to be a "male" problem, is the number one killer of women in the European Region. CVD warning signs for women are different from those for men, contributing to misdiagnosis of CVD in women: health systems need to be more responsive to women's health needs from both a biological and a gender perspective to reduce this risk. 

European strategy for women's health and well-being

The European strategy for women's health and well-being, currently undergoing consultation and due to be presented at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Copenhagen in September, is a critical tool in encouraging policy-makers to take action to reduce health inequities for women throughout the life-course. The strategy covers areas such as strengthening governance for women's health and well-being; eliminating discriminatory values, norms and practices; tackling the impact of gender and social, economic, cultural and environmental determinants; and improving health system responses to women's health and well-being.

The strategy is underpinned by the values of the European policy framework for health and well-being, Health 2020, and will contribute to global efforts to advance women's health, including SDGs 3, 5 and 10 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. 

Women Deliver Conference

On 16–19 May 2016 Copenhagen hosts the world's largest conference on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women in the last decade – the Women Deliver Conference. WHO is involved and WHO staff are participating in a variety of sessions, acknowledging that SDG 3 on health and well-being cannot be achieved without acting on SDG 5 on gender equality and empowering women.