International Women’s Day celebrates a centenary of achievements

In 1911, women lived until their early fifties, on average, in the wealthiest countries in Europe. By 1970, their average life expectancy in these countries had risen to the mid-seventies. In 2011, women in affluent countries live into their eighties, on average.

Women’s health over the past century has benefited from great social and technological improvements such as access to education and work, access to modern contraception and safe abortion (where legal), and the prevention and treatment of breast and cervical cancer.

Established in 1911 and celebrated annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day this year celebrates a centenary of achievements in women’s health, education and rights. The focus in 2011 is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathways for decent work for women”.

Despite great strides in access to education and training, work and employment remain areas of persisting inequality throughout the WHO European Region. Women earn less than men, form the majority of the unemployed, have lower pensions, do more part-time work and perform the greater portion of unpaid care work.

This affects their economic independence, social status, access to social protection and employer-based health insurance, which in turn has implications for their health.

In 2007 the World Health Assembly, including the Member States of the WHO European Region, endorsed WHO’s strategy for integrating gender analysis and actions into its work. WHO/Europe works across its programmes and with countries to promote gender equality in the Region. This work includes:

  • capacity-building and training
  • gender-specific interventions
  • developing and adapting tools and guidelines
  • integrating gender analysis into information systems
  • disseminating evidence and data
  • exchanging experience and case studies. 

WHO/Europe has recently reviewed the medical literature on health issues among adolescent girls, and highlights from this review have been published to mark International Women’s Day.