NEW YORK, USA/ NEW DELHI, INDIA): Global public health experts Vital Strategies joined the #PledgeforParity campaign, launched to mark International Women’s Day (8 March), but warned that public health issues are contributing to delays in progress toward gender parity.
José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies, said: “In 2014 the World Economic Forum predicted that global gender parity would be achieved in 2095. By 2015, that estimate was increased to 2133. It is unacceptable that it will take more than a century before one-half the world’s population achieves parity with the other. We firmly believe that action on health can accelerate progress.
“From birth, health plays a major role in a girl’s life opportunities. A woman accessing good maternal health care is less likely to die in childbirth, potentially better enabling her daughters to access and remain in education. When a mother is able to space her pregnancies, her family is more likely to be able to fund healthcare and education for all its children. There may be other systemic and cultural barriers to cross, but good early health and education are the first steps on the path toward opportunity.
“Unfortunately, a rising tide of non-communicable diseases are whittling away hard-won improvements in women’s health and longevity in every country. Just as the tobacco industry shamelessly targeted women in high-income countries during the twentieth century, it is now seeking to exploit for profit the growing social and economic freedoms of women in low and middle income countries – and its tactics seem to be working once again.
“Even in countries where advertising bans are in place, the tobacco industry uses the film, TV, internet and fashion industries to recruit young girls and women to its deadly product. Let’s not forget, the tobacco industry needs consumers to become addicted before the age of 21. Increases in the number of women smoking in high income countries has led to increases in the number of women suffering from and dying prematurely from lung cancer, among other diseases. The same time-bomb will strike low and middle income countries.
“Similarly, obesity-related disease and premature death are increasing in conjunction with higher consumption of processed foods and beverages containing unhealthy fats, sugars and salt – often marketed as convenient solutions for busy women. Rising levels of alcohol consumption – often marketed as a way to relax after a busy day - are also taking their toll.
“The truth is that this burden of ill health can negatively impact women’s opportunities in two ways. As direct sufferers, their work and family lives can be disrupted or curtailed by ill health. However, the increasing burden of NCDs is forcing a growing number of people to act as carers for relatives with long-term health conditions, and that burden disproportionately falls to women.
“We can implement strategies now that will help to improve the health of all people, everywhere – simultaneously reducing ill-health and relieving the burden of care disproportionately borne by women. We can do more to make men see that health and family planning aren’t just women’s issues – indeed our maternal health project in Tanzania has sought to do just that. These steps would not be a panacea, but they could accelerate women’s ability to access and benefit from educational and career opportunities across their lifetime – driving long-term change and bringing gender parity closer.”
Vital Strategies delivers a program to improve maternal health in a rural region of Tanzania. This includes educational campaigns aimed at men and women, as well as improving healthcare facilities and training health workers in the provision of emergency obstetric care. Vital Strategies also advocates to create or change policy to reduce the burden of tobacco- and obesity-related disease and premature death. Examples of its anti-tobacco and anti-obesity campaigns include the “Sunita” campaign, which specifically highlighted the use of chewing tobacco -related harm among women in India.