by Carly Dillis
The health of women worldwide has further implications beyond physical well-being. Health is a profound predictor of overall quality of life and has capabilities to infringe upon the accessibility of other human needs. Without basic health, women cannot be equal as they are consistently tied down by their lack of physical well-being. Women, as all people, have a right to their health. Women deserve to have their health be a priority in global development. Not only because health is beneficial for its own sake, but because of its intersection with others areas of development. Basic health for women must be achieved before other development goals can be truly successful.
On the whole, women often receive less benefits of development than their male counterparts. A large contributor to this inequality is health. Due to the fact that women’s health is often not valued in society, women themselves are inherently devalued by the message they their bodies are not worth time and energy. This message has powerful effects on development issues.
One powerful example of the intersection of women’s health, gender equality, and other development objectives is the issue of education. This blog post will explore how women’s health and its relation to education demonstrate these issues.
Quality Education is the fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals, released by the United Nations in 2015. Gender Equality follows this as goal number five.
In our discussion, we must first establish that Gender Equality and Women’s health are one in the same. According to the UN’s description of Goal 5: Gender Equality, the goal’s main areas of focus are reproductive health, healthy relationships and sexual assault, employment equality, and practices such as Female Genital Cutting. All of these issues are rooted in health. Reproductive health is a foundation of women’s health, especially in countries where motherhood is the expectation for all women. Sexual assault and healthy relationships are central to health as well in their consideration for mental, emotional, and physical health. Child marriages are often unsafe for women and lead to further situations where women are unable to rely in their health and security. Female Genital Cutting is a cultural practice that is imposed upon millions of women and girls globally. This practice is dangerous to women’s physical health and can cause major complications. And finally, while employment equality is less obviously correlated with health, it is not achievable without health for women. If women’s health is not protected and upheld, women will be rendered incapable of benefiting from measures to ensure equal employment.
In worldwide education, the gap between male and female access is large. When we examine why this is, we see that is it partly a structural problem. Yes, many areas have no schools for girls or forbid girls from attending the ones that do exist. However, in larger number, we see that girls are not going to school because they’re security and health is not protected and acts as a barrier. This happens in 3 ways. 1. Young girls are forced to stay home and assist their mothers in housework when their mothers become unwell; 2. Yong girls to not have access to health resources themselves and stay home; 3. Parents (and girls) do not believe school puts their daughters into unsecure situation and therefore refuse to send them.
- When women’s health is not valued, the health of mothers is not valued. This makes it difficult for mothers to care for children, cook, clean, and provide for the families; as is often expected of them. When mothers are unable to act on their socially prescribed duties, they must fall onto someone else: almost always the daughters of the family. Girls are pressured to give up educational opportunities to help their families. There is an important duality here. First, women’s health is not valued, causing them to face difficulties in completing the tasks they would normally partake in every day. Secondly, the damaging expectations that women are responsible for the entirety of housework, childcare, and community chores. These expectations cause women to have a systematic disadvantage when it comes to education and health. In education, they are more likely to drop out of school for the sake of family/community needs. In health, they are likely to sacrifice their health and their needs in order to care for their communities. The structure of families and the lack of value placed in women’s health combine to lessen female access to education. When the women’s health is not ensured, girls are more likely to have to remain in the home.
- Access to health resources is a huge issue in women’s health and education. There is a severe lack of education regarding how women should care for their bodies to stay healthy and the female body is often regarded as something highly private. One of the largest health issues for school aged girls is the menstrual cycle. Girls lack sanitary supplies to adequately and safely engage in everyday life while they are menstruating. Girls use items such as corn husks, sticks, rocks, leaves, and others every month, which poses very real threats to their health and safety. When these don’t work, and they often don’t, girls are confined to the home and are unable to attend school. If a girl misses school every time she menstruates for 1 year, she has missed 2 months of education. This not only means that she misses school, but also that she will inevitable fall behind and is more likely to drop out. In Uganda, when school aged girls were given access to reusable sanitary products, the dropout rate for girls fell from 25% to 3%. Girls health is often unconsidered in the public sphere, but bringing light to the health issues faced by all girls has the potential to make enormous strides in education equality.
- Security of women is just as essential to women’s health as immediate physical concerns. When women are girls are systematically devalued, they are inherently less secure. Often times, this means they are physically unsecure and vulnerable to violence. For instance, in Nigeria 276 school girls were captured by terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014. These girls were violently captured, raped, and some were killed. This is unquestionably an issue of women’s health. Health is security in its most basic form, it is being secure in one’s own body and not living in fear of a state in which one will be in harm. Therefore, women’s health in directly affecting their ability to access education resources.
Overall, we can see that health is absolutely fundamental in the lives of women worldwide. Health is freedom from physical ailments, the ability to be secure, and the ability to engage in daily life within communities. There are many things that contribute to disparities in education worldwide. This blog post only explores those related to health and gender equality, however one can see just how pertinent these factors truly are on a global scale.
*Disclaimer. This article is not written about specific countries, regions, groups, etc. It is intended to explore possibilities and realities faced by many worldwide. However, it not representative of all women everywhere and should not be interpreted as such.