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Gender Mainstreaming in Health

Technical Consultation on Gender Mainstreaming in Health, New Delhi, November 2000

Women’s health is determined not only by biological factors but also socioeconomic
inequalities rooted in gender imbalances.

THIS meeting on Gender Mainstreaming in Health is the first of its kind in the Region. Unless we address gender
inequities we cannot bring about improvements in the health of the poor and the disadvantaged. For too long,
gender concerns have been ignored while formulating health policies and designing health programmes. The
Health Ministers' Declaration on Health Development in the South-East Asia Region in the 21st Century (1997)
recognized that improving the health of women in the Region is a daunting challenge. The Declaration drew
attention to gender-related factors such as women's status in society; the many kinds of discrimination they
face which also affect the girl child; the lack of women's involvement in decision-making even for their own
health; and violence.
We have paid dearly for this neglect of gender concerns in health policy-making. Nowhere else is the impact of
gender inequity on health as striking as it is in this Region.
Let me share with you some evidence of gender-based imbalances in health found in the Region.

Women in this Region are disproportionately affected by inequity due to poverty and gender. Their low health
status is inseparably linked with these two issues. Women are the poorest in society and suffer inequity in
access to health care throughout their life span. In four countries of the Region (Bangladesh, Indonesia,
Maldives, Nepal) female life expectancy at birth is the same or lower than male life expectancy. This is
contrary to nature and the global norm where women outnumber men, and reflects women’s inequitable
access to resources and services. In Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal less than 40% of the adult females
are literate. This has a synergistic relationship with women's poverty and low social status.
Women’s health is determined not only by biological factors but also socioeconomic inequalities rooted in
gender imbalances. Research evidence shows that gender based inequalities adversely affect women’s health
in every phase of their lives.
Analysis of conditions that are exclusive to women reveals that this Region accounts for 40% of the 585 000
global maternal deaths every year. Most women do not have access to cost-effective and essential obstetric
This Region also has 38% of the eight million tuberculosis cases worldwide. Women progress from infection to
disease much faster than men, and suffer a higher fatality rate. Gender inequity hinders timely reporting and
access to services.
Women are more susceptible to HIV infection than men due to biological and gender reasons. Their unequal
decision-making role does not allow women to take protective measures.
Women are at higher risk of mental illness than men. In a study in one country of the Region the prevalence
ratio was 2.8 women to 1.1 men. Discrimination and violence also put women at greater health risk.
Depression, anxiety, fear and sleeping disturbances are common long-term reactions to violence.
Tobacco and alcohol have a greater impact on the health of women than men, and adversely affect the health
of their babies.
Today’s concern is to focus once again on these inequalities, and to find the means to address them.
Redressing gender inequities should start with legislative and financial measures. Health policies and
programmes should incorporate gender concerns at the planning phase itself. Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland,
Director-General of the World Health Organization, in her address at the Beijing Plus Five Meeting in New York
earlier this year, said, "Investing in health makes good economic sense. Investing in women’s health makes
more sense".
There is compelling evidence for the need to accelerate investments in women’s health, which is one of the
top priorities for Health Sector Reform in this Region to eliminate gender discrimination. I hope this technical
consultation will lay the foundation for the incorporation of gender perspectives into policy frameworks.
Gender mainstreaming is a process through which issues related to inequalities can be given special emphasis
while formulating policies, designing programmes and providing services.

Last update: 16 November 2006

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