Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region

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The Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region is based on a review of the evidence, guidance from the governing bodies, feedback from technical experts, results of an online consultation with Member States, face-to-face consultations in countries and feedback from WHO regions for health and healthy cities networks.

Although women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region is generally better than elsewhere in the world, this is not necessarily true for all women. Health inequities among women remain large and unjustifiable, both within and between countries in the European Region. This is recognized in the report Beyond the mortality advantage (1), which was discussed at the technical briefing on women’s health held during the 65th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2015.

The Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region is underpinned by the values of the European policy framework for health and well-being, Health 2020 (2), which acknowledges that gender is a determinant of health, alongside social and environmental determinants, and which identifies gender mainstreaming as a mechanism to achieve gender equity. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men. A gender-based approach means supporting the need to strengthen the understanding of the determinants of men’s as well as women’s health with a view to making policies and strategies more responsive to both men’s and women’s needs across the life-course, and therefore an analysis of the determinants of men’s health will be taken forward in the future. This Strategy focuses on the determinants of women’s health, without necessarily making comparisons between women and men.

The Strategy sets priority areas for action in line with Health 2020, and provides guidance to optimize investment in girls’ and women’s health, including by refining existing national policies and strategies to make them more consistent with current evidence and more responsive to women’s health and well-being across the life-course. This will require action by ministries of health, both alone and in collaboration with other sectors, including departments for women’s issues, social protection, social affairs, education, labour and employment. It also calls for a whole-of-society approach that acknowledges the extraordinary contributions of women to society, family and work, and empowers women by strengthening their participation in key decision-making on their health and well-being throughout the life-course.

Global efforts to advance women’s health have been endorsed by Member States through the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG3, SDG5 and SDG10, on health and well-being, achieving gender equality, and reducing inequalities, respectively. These are further strengthened by the WHO Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016–2030) (3) and the plan (4) to take it forward that was endorsed by Member States at the Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly in May 2016.

The Strategy will strengthen these efforts at regional and country levels by identifying key areas for action to reduce health inequities for women throughout the life-course. For important priorities relating to women’s sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, sexuality education, sexual and reproductive rights, and cervical cancer prevention and control, this Strategy refers to the Action plan for sexual and reproductive health: towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Europe – leaving no one behind (EUR/RC66/13).