International Women’s Day – ‘Equality for women is progress for all’

Globally, over 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Even though these deaths have fallen by half over the last 20 years, the rate of decline is less than half of what is needed to achieve the 2015 target of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The past few decades have seen improvements in gender equality in primary education, but only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved the target at all levels of education.

In 2013, women held only 20% of positions in parliaments worldwide.

A quarter of all women in the WHO European Region have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is “Equality for women is progress for all”. It is time to focus on the progress made and the remaining challenges. International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to stand with women and children, and highlight the benefits to society of gender equality.

Despite great improvements in women’s access to health care, education and training, work and employment issues remain. Women earn less than men, form the majority of the unemployed, have lower pensions, do more part-time work and hold fewer of the more senior roles in business and the public sector.

WHO, women and gender

The MDGs have played an important role in focusing efforts and highlighting the need for resources for gender equality and women’s rights. In addition, in 2007 WHO Member States endorsed WHO’s strategy for integrating gender analysis and action into its work. It has focused mainly on urging countries to ensure that a gender-equality perspective is incorporated in all levels of health-care delivery and services, including those for adolescents and youth. It also highlights the factors that generate gender inequality and works to ensure that the contributions of women and men are considered in health policy and planning and training for health-care workers.

WHO/Europe has developed strategies and tools and helped Member States to apply them in their varying circumstances: assessing health systems to improve women’s health.

WHO/Europe works with countries that need to develop or reform their reproductive health services, following WHO guidelines to provide high-quality services for family planning, including infertility services, ensuring safe abortion, combating sexually transmitted diseases and improving sexual health.

Using the European health policy framework, Health 2020, WHO/Europe integrates an equity perspective into all its work, reinforcing the principles of nondiscrimination, equality and participation, to ensure that every woman and child has the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions and is not held back by their gender.