International Day of Action for Women’s Health draws our attention to the most concerning issues encountered by many women and girls, namely discrimination and violence, coercion and the disregard for autonomy. The aforementioned problems should act as reason enough to propel our government and local communities to take action to counteract the inadequacies of our society. Today is also used as a platform to realise the social, economic and legal inadequacies that separate our genders, and so that we may deliberate powerful solutions to help our female population thrive. It is important to make sure that transformative change to create a safe space for all women is backed by social support and political action, so that we can form a more respectful society. We call upon our leaders to enact necessary change for our women and young girls so that they may live healthier and happier lives. However, it is imperative to realise that change starts with ourselves, and we should act diligently to promote equality for women and advances in women’s health.
What is it?
The 28th of May is a significant day as we celebrate and create awareness around International Day of Action for Women’s Health. This has been declared an internationally recognised day since 1987 and was decisively accepted by the South African government in 1999. This day is considered an important occasion for women, young and old, as it draws attention to the importance of women’s health and the health concerns faced by women every day. It allows community members, both men and women, as well as medical professionals to consider the various difficulties that are effecting our female population and to make a concerted effort to help women live healthier, happier lives, were they are both physically and mentally fit.
There is certainly a historical aspect that influences women’s health in our own country and across the globe. We want to highlight the factors that may play a role in the decline of our female population’s health, as well as focus on how history has brought us to this point.
An Historical Focus
If we turn our attention to a few decades ago, women’s health and needs were largely marginalised. The health of women and young girls are of particular concern within our country. This is due to the fact that many societies, like our own, disadvantage our female population through discrimination, which is heavily rooted in sociocultural factors. Sociocultural factors are environmental conditions that play a role in the development and adaptive behaviour of our community, these factors can be disadvantageous or beneficial depending on the condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sociocultural factors that are currently faced by women, and young girls, include unequal power relationships between men and women, social norms that decrease education and paid employment opportunities, an exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles, and potential or actual experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence. The aforementioned factors prevent women and girls from benefiting from quality health services and attaining the best possible level of health, which often puts them at a severe back foot in our populace.
Today, basic services are being provided more readily to our population and the lives of many South Africans are better than what they were a few years ago. The economy has shown some growth, however, it has not expanded at a rate that can create employment opportunities that are so greatly needed. Poverty is a significant barrier to positive health outcomes for both men and women, and tends to place a significantly higher burden on women’s health than on that of men. At the same time, the policies and programmes that have been put in place have enabled women to lead healthier lives than in the past. However, significant gender-based health disparities remain in many countries like South Africa. With limited access to education or employment, high illiteracy rates and increasing poverty levels make health improvements for women exceeding difficult. Gender-equitable approaches to health are needed to enable women’s full participation in the planning and delivery of health services.
The current issues faced by South African women:
- Gender-based violence
The visible pandemic that is gender-based violence has effected countless women across the country. It has become especially bad during Covid-19 as people are sequestered in their homes and in close quarters with one another. The long term effects of physically violence can cause terrible, long-lasting mental issues for its victims.
- Non-communicable diseases
Unfortunately, unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles and addictive substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, are on the rise within our country. This has increased incidence of numerous non-communicable diseases to surface, namely heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cardiorespiratory disease. Women are more at risk for becoming obese due to their morphological differences. This puts them at the backfoot and makes them more at risk to contract other diseases of lifestyle.
Poverty is a large concern as it effects millions of South Africans in various ways and often places women in vulnerable communities that lack proper sanitation and basic health services. Furthermore, low-income areas often do not have access to proper nutrition, which in turn adds to the growing obesity pandemic and the growing prevalence of diseases of lifestyle. Women, and young girls, from under-resourced communities do not have the means to purchase sanitary products and menstrual cycles are still widely considered as a misunderstood and taboo topic amongst men.
What We Do
The Noakes Foundation promotes global health and puts emphasis on women’s health, specifically through health and nutritional education. A women’s health is her total wellbeing, not determined solely by biological factors and reproduction, but also by effects of workload, nutrition, stress, war and migration, among others.
The health of families and communities are tied to the health of women. The illness or death of a woman has serious and far-reaching consequences for the health of her children, family, and community. Women who are given the responsibility of looking after families also need their own space and time. This means that they rarely have time to relax and evaluate their lives. Emotional well-being is connected to the physical wellbeing of women. At the same time, women do not need to be patronized about their health, they can understand the issues and take the appropriate steps to ensure that they are in control of their health status. Through this statement, community interventions like Eat Better South Africa invest in women’s knowledge in the field of health and nutrition. In order for communities to benefit from the knowledge, which women possess, a renewed self-confidence of women has to be encouraged. Investing resources in primary health care programmes which includes health education and the application of health promoting activities based on simple but scientifically sound measures in which women can participate at local level, is likely to provide more benefits than traditional efforts dedicated to the formation of highly skilled professionals who practice medicine or nutrition in clinics and hospitals.
Today we celebrate the amazing women we live with, work with and get to know. We honour you, your health and will continue to promote the longevity and betterment of health for all world-wide.