WHO Moves to Reduce Gender Inequalities

2008-07-02 08:33 750

MANILA, Philippines, July 2 /Xinhua-PRNewswire/ -- The World Health Organization (WHO) today emphasized that measures can be taken to reduce inequalities in health arising from societal norms about what is considered appropriate for men and women.

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“Gender often has a major impact on how long people live and how healthy they will be throughout their life," said Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Director of the Division of Health Sector Development for the Western Pacific. “While there have been impressive improvements in health and well-being in the Western Pacific Region, progress has not always been even among men and women, or among boys and girls."

The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific aims to help countries understand what needs to be done to address differences in the health of men and women with a newly released publication, Integrating Poverty and Gender into Health Programmes: A Sourcebook for Health Professionals-Foundational Module on Gender.

In the Region, gender can affect men’s and women’s health in the following ways:

-- Men and women usually perform different tasks, so they are exposed

to different health risks. For example, women are responsible for

cooking, so they have more exposure to high levels of indoor smoke.

Men venture into the forests, increasing their exposure to


-- Norms about "manliness" may pose risks to men’s health. For

example, men may consider it "unmanly" to use condoms, even for paid

sex or sex with their partners, exposing them to greater risk to

sexually transmitted infections.

-- Women usually have weaker control over a household’s money or means

of transportation, reducing their ability to access health services

when sick.

-- Women typically have unequal decision-making power in the household,

which can constrain their ability to protect their health and the

health of their family members. For example, the decision to purchase

and use a bednet may be considered a man’s decision. Also, women may

be unable to refuse sex, or insist that their partner use condoms.

-- Domestic violence and rape are particularly grave manifestations of

discrimination against women. The stigma involved results in neglect

of this important health issue.

These health inequities can be reduced through actions based on gender analysis, which identifies the relationship between men and women, what defines their behaviour and the constraints they might face. It takes into account the differences in their roles, access and control over resources, power and decision-making, and how these influence their health.

Health professionals, therefore, need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to respond more effectively to the health needs of men and women. However, this is not always the case.

The publication outlines the links between gender and health inequities, provides reasons why health professionals need to be concerned about such inequities, and suggests actions they can take to reduce them. “We hope that this document will help policy-makers and health professionals in the Region know what needs to be done to reduce health inequities based on gender,” said Dr Bekedam.

Source: World Health Organization