Empowering women for a healthy World

Over the past few decades, the world has significantly taken steps to close the gender gap that affects overall health of people. Yet, the advancement of women has been stalled, and thee is a general sense of degrading. However, recognition of Women’s role in development sector, stand-alone, exemplifies their need and importance in the society. According to World Economist Forum, 70% of the overall health workforce comprises women. Yet, the inequities in salaries, benefits and other intangible privileges are glaring.

World Health Organization has continuously stressed on ‘women empowerment’ on the grounds of reducing gender-based disparities. Some Asian countries like; Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan have done exceptionally well in reducing the gender inequities through multi-targeted, multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary interventions. BRAC-the largest NGO of the world, after starting its venture in Bangladesh, along with other national and international NGOs have successfully been able to empower women in vulnerable communities through multiple skill build-up, capacity building trainings and other multi-targeted interventions. The impact can largely be seen through the birds-eye view by checking the health indicators. Reduction in maternal mortality, a steep increase in the prevalence of family planning methods and their usage, and most of all the life expectancy, could also be, though not stand-alone, attributed to ‘women empowerment’. Furthermore, UN Women also have taken “investing in women in science” as a mandate to achieve sustainable developmental goals, wherein millions are being invested to reach-out for marginalized and vulnerable women populations especially in conflict and disadvantaged zones.

Kashmir shares a relatively similar socio-demography with other lower and middle income countries of Asia. But the gender disparities are approaching highest degrees in Kashmir, as confirmed by the recent report of MSF in 2017. Conflict has been regarded as the root problem which influences violence in different dimensions including Gender-based-violence (GBV) and intimate-partner violence, sometimes also referred to as domestic violence. Structural violence, organisational violence and social entitlement; also regards as other forms of gender disparities are alarmingly increasing in Kashmir. However, it must be noted carefully that conflicts and political crisis are symptoms of an unequal, dis-united and dis-integrated society. In fact, social inequities like gender disparity can influence and ignite crisis situations including conflict rather than the later influencing the former. Today, the world embarks on the Barker’s hypothesis which elucidated the base of ‘foetal programming’. This genetic makeup happens in intra-uterine life and evidence stresses the need for robust interventions in enhancing overall health of women during pregnancy for better maternal outcomes. Moreover, this ‘foetal programming has also shown significant association with malnutrition, low birth weight, under five mortality and most importantly development of non-communicable diseases, even in adult life. This is the main reason why we see the so called “rich peoples’ diseases” like diabetes and hypertension also in poor communities. Henceforth, enhancing the determinants of health for women can actually lead to healthy and disease-free populations especially in conflict prone zones. In addition to this, the recent past has witnessed empowered women as exemplary leaders at multiple levels in the global governance system. The world has been devoid of this visible development due to gender-based disparities. I would urge my Kashmiri community to lay focus on the education of their children and empower them, especially women.

Dr. Ateeb Ahmad Parray is Tropical Diseases Research Fellow, WHO.