Towards a European strategy for women’s health

Just over half of the 900 million people living in the WHO European Region (463 million) are women. 

Women in the Region live longer than men, and life expectancy is increasing. In 2000, the life expectancy at birth for women in the European Region was 77 years; this rose to 80 years by 2012. For men, life expectancy rose from 68 to 72 years over the same period. Yet these extra years – women's "mortality advantage" – are not necessarily healthy years: on average, women spend 10 years in ill health. 

The main causes of ill health (morbidity) and death (mortality) among women differ across life stages and countries. Physical health conditions dominate in early life; depressive and anxiety disorders develop among young women moving into adult life; and lower back pain, ischaemic heart disease and cancers are more prevalent in older age.

Health inequities among women both within and between countries in the Region are large and unjustifiable. Equal access to health services has not been achieved for women living in rural areas, those from minority groups or those who are migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

WHO/Europe is drawing on the evidence and experience of key experts in women's health from national and local governments, academia, United Nations agencies, civil society and other partners to develop a European strategy for women's health.

A European strategy for women's health

The strategy will focus on the determinants of women's health, without necessarily comparing women with men. The aim is to inspire governments and stakeholders to work towards improving women's and girls' health and well-being beyond issues of reproductive, maternal and child health. The strategy will encourage taking action to reduce health inequities for women throughout the life-course.

This action 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 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in particular Sustainable Development Goals 3, 5 and 10 on health and well-being, achieving gender equality and reducing inequalities. 

Developed through a series of consultations, with guidance from Member States, the strategy will be presented for adoption by countries in the Region at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2016. The draft strategy will make synergies with other documents put forward to the Regional Committee at the same time – in particular, the European human rights-based sexual and reproductive health action plan for 2017–2021 and the strategy and action plan on refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region for 2016–2022.

International Women's Day

This year, United Nations activities related to International Women's Day on 8 March reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda and on global commitments to gender equality, women's empowerment and women's human rights. The theme is a call to act: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality".