The Global Divide: Health Inequalities Among Women and Children

The first week of the Commission on the Status of Women has recently ended and I have been bombarded with information ranging from the most effective strategies to economically empower women to learning more about the He for She initiative.

The first week of the Commission on the Status of Women has recently ended and I have been bombarded with information ranging from the most effective strategies to economically empower women to learning more about the He for She initiative, which focuses on the voices of men by encouraging them to speak out against the discrimination and inequalities experienced by women and girls globally.

However, one forum in particular resonated with me, and it was the forum related to how young women globally suffer most of the burden of some of the world’s deadliest diseases. I have learned that a person’s gender can have a major impact on their health due to gender-related as well as biological differences. In particular, according to the World Health Organization, “the health of women and girls is of particular concern because, in many societies, they are disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors.” For instance, “women and girls face increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.”

After attending the United Nations Population Fund event entitled, “Unite Campaign Panel on Sexual Violence,” I learned that not only do women experience economic, political, and social inequalities, we also experience health inequalities. Although women live on average four years longer than men, “globally, cardiovascular disease, often thought to be a “male” problem, is the number one killer of women.” I was left wondering and constantly asking experts, “What can youth do to help combat the inequalities, particularly those related to health, among women and children?”  

While attending the events surrounding the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, I have met many youth advocating on behalf of women and children, particularly as it relates to women and girls’ sexual health. For example, one youth I met volunteers with an organization called Advocates for Youth, which was started in 1980 as a means of helping youth make responsible and informed decisions concerning their sexual and reproductive health.

After learning more about organizations that focus on youth and their reproductive and sexual rights, I spent the next day learning more about the role that sexual and reproductive rights play in achieving sustainable development. One of my favorite side events thus far, entitled “Putting Women and Girls at the Center of the Development Agenda: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Achieving Sustainable Development,” was led by the Permanent Mission of Zambia to the United Nations and the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health. At this event delegates globally recognized that the “health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economics.”

Sadly, the fact is that 15 years after the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, there is a significant lagging of reproductive health compared to all the other goals.  In fact, “approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries.” Furthermore, “over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception.” Ultimately I learned that in order to create sustainable development we must not only invest in the economic empowerment of women, but also invest in the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls.

Research shows that the largest cohort of young people in history are now entering their reproductive years. However, they are being met with limited access to reproductive and sexual information as well as services. If we truly seek to achieve sustainable development, youth must get involved in pushing ahead the United Nations’ agenda on providing reproductive health and education to women and young girls. We must find every opportunity we can to promote the reproductive rights of women and young girls globally. Some youth have produced documentaries, small books, or even paintings to showcase the struggles of women and girls who are denied their rights to reproductive and sexual health.

At the very least, we should all aim to educate ourselves on the multifaceted ways in which women are oppressed. We have to start looking at gender oppression through a more holistic lens, one that does not stop at economic and/or political inequalities, but also health-related inequalities such as in sexual and reproductive health.

Tiffany Taylor, 2013-2014 U.S. Youth Observer at the UN