Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Do We Really Care For Women’s Health?

Even after nearly three decades of the declaration of International Day for Women’s Health at Costa Rica, the status of women’s health across the globe does not paint a rosy picture. In fact, the global concern on safeguarding women’s health rights has been on the rise with the movement gaining momentum. On May 28th every year, women’s health issues are expected to take center stage and the day is expected to serve as an occasion to celebrate the gains in women’s health status. There are nearly 25 days of activism throughout the year observed worldwide, which call out for action on women’s reproductive and sexual rights. More and more organizations are partnering with each other to put an end to the neglect faced by women with respect to their sexual and reproductive rights. It is ironic and sad, that there should be a need to mark a special day for the health rights of half the population of the world. 

The cocktail of patriarchy and poor access to health care resulted in women’s health status still being poor. In the Indian context, the health of Indian women is intrinsically linked to their status in society.  

Taking a look at some crucial indicators of maternal health, one observes that nearly half of the ever married women in India are married off by age of 18 years and give birth by the age of 19 years. While 60% women in the country are deprived of institutional facilities for child birth, only 50% have had access to antenatal care services. Further, the country which boasts of rapid development and economic prosperity has more than half of its women anemic, which is the most telling indicator of the women’s nutritional status .  Strong patriarchal values, low levels of both education and formal labor force participation lead to little autonomy and decision making power and have a negative impact on the health status of Indian women. In India only 36% women have any decision making authority in the household decision making. 

The patriarchal set up has further implications on the decisions pertaining to fertility and desired family size by women. Son preference has not only forced women to undergo multiple pregnancies but also opt for sex selective abortions in case the fetus is a female. Data shows that only 40% women having two daughters have desired a third child, which means lot many women are forced into bearing a third child against their will, hoping  for a male child. Mis-use of advances in modern technology coupled with son preference are responsible for the declining child sex ratio. A large section of women (>60%) do not have a choice with regard to deciding the family size or contraceptive choices. 

Violence against women seems to have reached an epidemic proportion in our country where 40% of women have reported to have experienced spousal violence. These statistics are merely the tip of the iceberg with lots of cases of VAW going unreported.  Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners report higher rates of a number of important health problems. For example, they are 16% more likely to have low-birth-weight babies, they are more than twice as likely to have an abortion and experience depression. 

It is a fact that millions of Indian women still have to risk sneaking out in the dark for the most basic need of defecation. Absence or non- availability of clean, safe and functional toilets that women and girls can use is the cause behind many avoidable health problems as well as security issues of women.

28th May - the day to Call For Action on Women’s Health should be used to review our priorities, our policies and programmes and ask ourselves the question: Do we really value our women?