POSTED March 11, 2019
Top 5 challenges impacting women’s health
Give females the support to thrive and make positive change
By Patrick Canagasingham, CEO
Balance is always best, right? You hear that as it relates to exercise, diet, work, life and especially when it comes to creating equality around the world. It sounds simple, but the #MeToo movement has taught us it’s not. I ponder this often, especially as we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day where the global message is #BalanceforBetter.
Creating a gender balance in Canada and around the world means reversing century-old cultures and traditions.
There are many challenges. At Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), we focus on supporting 700,000 people in 12 countries by prioritizing education to make lasting change. But, it’s hard to do that when women and girls can’t always reach their full potential and contribute to the economy — when they don’t have a voice and equal opportunity to complete school.
It begins with their health. If that isn’t addressed, females around the world can’t thrive at home, at school or in their community. Ultimately, they can’t get the equal treatment they deserve.
What’s holding them back? Below are five issues preventing women and girls in vulnerable countries from living healthy, fulfilling lives this International Women’s Day.
1) Access to healthcare in rural areas
Many young women and mothers live in remote areas with difficult terrain, limited transportation and income, which often puts their unborn babies at risk, simply because they can’t access healthcare. And, in many poor households women and girls eat after men, so they don’t always receive the nourishment they need.
Although CCFC and other organizations have helped provide maternal, child and newborn care as well as support programs to the poor and underserved in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and Malawi (among others), much still needs to be done.
2) Limited female medical practitioners
There’s been an uptick in the number of women working in healthcare in vulnerable communities in the past decades. Yet, trained female medical workers are nearly non-existent in rural communities in African countries, such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Malawi. It’s why we work hard to make it possible for girls to stay in school, so they have the opportunity to further their studies with some perhaps choosing healthcare.
3) Harmful ‘traditional’ practices
Thirty-nine thousand children are married every day, as noted by the World Health Organization (WHO). They’re not emotionally or physically ready to be a spouse or parent. And, girls are at high risk of suffering from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases and of being a victim of domestic abuse.
The implications of female genital mutilation are scary, too, with WHO stats showing more than 200-million girls and women alive today have been cut. The procedures can lead to severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections and complications during childbirth, with an increased risk of newborn deaths.
CCFC is working to address these issues. We collaborated with 72 civil-society organizations and seven government departments in three states in India to spread awareness about child marriage to 1.2-million people. Anecdotally, we helped prevent 173 child marriages, but more needs to be done.
4) Violence against women
Aside from violence against women due to cultural practices, there are also victims of rape, abuse and sexual coercion. At CCFC, we train community members and help coordinate girls clubs to provide knowledge, skills and support to advocate for female’s rights. In some rural communities in India, complaint boxes give women and children a chance to anonymously voice concerns about their safety and get help.
5) Limited economic empowerment for women
In many African countries, it’s hard for women to secure loans to start their own businesses and generate income to seek medical care for their families. In our programs, we’ve seen how villages-savings-and-loans initiatives have helped women overcome these obstacles as they share and loan money (with interest) from members of their community group.
The health challenges women face are vast, but I’ve seen lasting change is possible. So, speak up, speak out and make your voice heard to help create a gender balance. Educate your world and beyond about why gender equality is important to everyone — from families to communities to the economy.