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Good health is a crucial part of our happiness, but it’s also tied to the success of communities and our economy. Yet, across the globe and in the U.S., there is still work to be done in the health sector. From insurance coverage in the U.S. to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges abroad, these are just a few of the issues that need effective solutions.
However, no matter where you are in the world, there is one category of health that requires support: Women’s health.
Research shows that when women have access to healthcare, they are more likely to access education opportunities and increase their participation in the labor force, which can lead them to economic prosperity and productivity. Additionally, investing in community-related health programs globally is proven to help reduce mortality rates and child death rates. These types of programs help develop health infrastructure that directly support women and girls.
Women make up half of the world’s population and health is one of the five dimensions of their lives. Donors who are looking to make long-term, high-impact investments should start by gaining a deeper understanding of this multi-layered issue. In this guide, you’ll find an overview of top challenges women face relating to health.
Why Should Donors Care About Women’s Health Issues
To Drive Equality
Currently, there are clear disparities in health based on gender that funders can help address. Being born a woman can severely impact your health, due to sociocultural factors that make it more difficult for women to obtain access to the best health services. These factors can be rooted in gender-discriminatory mindsets, prohibiting women from being able to get the help they need. Despite having more health concerns than men, women may not be allowed access to services, doctors, or specialists. Increasing opportunities to quality care by breaking down barriers can help women maintain a healthy and sustainable livelihood.
Supporting women’s health is one way to contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goal #5: Gender Equality. By providing resources for women’s wellbeing, donors can help advance gender equality at home and abroad. When women have access to the resources they need to be healthy, they can contribute more to their families and communities.
To Eliminate Racial Disparities
Within the U.S. healthcare system, racial disparities exist that are so severe, many Black Americans refrain from accessing health care due to past negative interactions and experiences with medical professionals. Further research demonstrates that people of color in the U.S. experience worse health outcomes than white individuals. Researchers suggest that more companies need to address how structural racism plays a role in access to adequate healthcare. Additionally, implicit bias in healthcare providers can impact the way that they treat patients of color. These racial disparities make it more difficult for people of color to access basic healthcare necessities to maintain their health.
To Address the Lack of Funding
There are more than 45,000 organizations dedicated to women and girls, and while they only received 1.6% of all charitable giving, organizations that focus on women’s health received the largest amount of support. However, there is still a pressing need for more funding and donors interested in tackling this issue can play an important role in increasing dollars directed to women’s health.
Women’s Top Health Issues
We recognize that this overview doesn’t touch on every aspect of women’s health. To help guide your giving, we’re also including a list of other top issues:
- Cancer: Two of the most common issues that impact women are breast and cervical cancer.
- Reproductive Health: Connecting women to the services and education they need could help curb reproductive health issues in their lives.
- Maternal health: While there have been major improvements in this field, providing access to for better maternal health services worldwide continues to be an issue.
- HIV: There are still many women who are impacted by the HIV epidemic and do not have access to the resources needed to protect themselves against HIV.
- Sexually transmitted infections: Aside from HPV and HIV, there are other STIs that are negatively affecting women’s health.
- Violence against women: Women are in danger of physical and sexual violence, either by a partner or non-partner, at a much higher rate than men.
- Mental health: Research indicates that women are more prone to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, among other disorders.
- Noncommunicable diseases: Helping women adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles is critical to their long-term health.
- Being young: Adolescent girls face a number of health challenges regarding their reproductive and sexual health.
- Getting older: Older women that are more likely to have worked in the home have fewer pensions, benefits, and less access to healthcare, while also being more prone to diseases such as dementia.
What Are the Key Women’s Health Issues?
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)
The three components of WASH are all key to living a more sustainable, healthy life, however, in many parts of the world access to fresh water is difficult to obtain. While water is out of reach for one in every nine people on Earth, it can be even more detrimental for women. The burden of collecting water or getting to a proper toilet -- particularly during menstruation -- severely impacts women’s health and productivity. Young girls who lack proper facilities and menstruation materials are often forced to miss school for multiple days a month. Furthermore, only 45% of schools in least developed and low-income countries have sufficient sanitary facilities.
Research demonstrates that women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families (which leads to better outcomes for all), yet on average, globally, women and children spend 200 million hours, daily, collecting water. In 45 developing countries, women and children face the burden of water collection in 76% of households.
What Is Being Done to Address WASH and Women’s Health?
Programs, organizations, and innovators are working to address WASH needs for women across the globe. Donors should familiarize themselves with the players in this space to better understand solutions and needs.
- Water.org is working to provide people with small loans to help finance water and toilet needs in households that need it the most.
- Leaders in the WASH sector are collaborating on gender transformative approaches to improve WASH programming and include women in the solutions.
- Member organisations of the Women for Water Partnership collaborated with the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health to understand women’s WASH needs, and elevate their voices in a global-setting agenda in a proposal called the Support Network for Action.
- World Toilet Day: The United Nations designated Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day in an effort to eliminate taboos around toilets and prioritize global sanitation as a significant health issue.
Reproductive Health in the U.S. and Abroad
Roughly 84 percent of unintended pregnancies are due to an unmet need for contraception and more than 214 million women and girls are currently unable to obtain modern contraception. Barriers to obtaining contraception vary by country, but can include inadequate healthcare systems, cost, and social and cultural beliefs. Increasing access to contraception and family planning can decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies for adolescents, reduce the number of unsafe abortions, and prevent deaths of mothers and children.
Supporting reproductive health services can also be a wise investment decision. According to Women Deliver’s Demand for Modern Contraception and Reproductive Health policy brief, “cost-benefit estimates show that every additional $1 spent on contraceptive services in developing countries reduces pregnancy-related care costs by $2.20.”
In the United States, where access to reproductive health services are making headlines, there are opportunities to support women at the systems change level. Upstream is an example of an organization that is training health centers to provide women with contraception. The goal: To reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and lift people out of poverty.
Meanwhile, the Tara Foundation has identified 40 investment strategies across the reproductive health industry, along with other avenues to to make an impact.
What is Working in Women’s Reproductive Health?
Across the globe, there are organizations, foundations, and funders working to address reproductive health needs and improve access to contraception. Here are a few programs that are seeing success through innovation.
Programs using online resources to advance reproductive rights:
- In India, FSG conducted a survey supported by the Packard Foundation and interviewed young India men and women about their understanding of reproductive and sexual health, finding that many are using the Internet for education.
- Usala Bien, a PSI member network, utilizes social media to reach out to young women in Central America and the Caribbean to provide educational resources and advice on contraception.
Programs working to increase understanding of contraception and reproductive health through collaboration and movement-building:
- In Honduras, Chicas en Conexión, a project by the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO), creates spaces for women to share information on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, self-esteem, and life planning. Additionally, PASMO is now the leading supplier of family planning methods in Nicaragua.
- Family Planning 2020 is a global partnership that supports young women and girls through investment in rights-based family planning.
- Reports and research from The Guttmacher Institute document the need for more investment to increase contraception access and programs that will be effective in addressing family planning needs.
Maternal Health in the U.S.
Consider this: A recent report revealed that the United States is the most dangerous developed nation to give birth in. In fact, maternal mortality rates are increasing in the U.S., as infant mortality rates are decreasing. This indicates that care for mothers is not prioritized, and maternal issues such as post-partum depression and public breastfeeding are still stigmatized in U.S. maternal health care.
Even more disturbing is the significant disparity in maternal mortality rates for African-American women.
Source: Harvard Public Health
Black women are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy. Further research finds that racism, not race, is a factor. Black women are more likely to receive inadequate care, be uninsured, and face environmental risks. Donors can address the racial disparities in maternal health by supporting black-women led initiatives, investing in community solutions, and advocating for the Affordable Care Act.
What is Being Done to Address Maternal Health Disparities in the U.S.?
- Community-based solutions that foster equity from birth can help address racial disparities in maternal care and create equitable solutions.
- Doctors and medical institutions are encouraged to use evidence-based practices and participate in implicit bias training.
- The state of New York created a task force in 2018 to address maternal mortality rates, specifically in regard to racial disparities.
Maternal Health As a Global Issue
According to Unicef data from 2000-2017, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR, number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) dropped by approximately 38 percent worldwide. However, while global maternal mortality rates have decreased year by year due to improvements in hygiene, nutrition, and access to healthcare, there were still more than 300,000 pregnancy-related deaths in 2015. Maternal mortality is a preventable issue and donors can make an impact to ensure that this number keeps decreasing.
Poverty remains the number one culprit that contributes to global maternal deaths. Unfortunately, 94 percent of all maternal deaths occur in low and lower-middle-income countries where there is less access to quality health care and limited access to midwives/skilled health workers that specialize in maternal health.
Source: Our World in Data
Who is Addressing Global Maternal Mortality?
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - Maternal, Newborn and Childhood Health invests in tools, partnerships, and programs to improve maternal health in various countries and address vulnerabilities in women’s resilience.
- PSI’s Maternity Care Vouchers program distributes vouchers to pregnant women at an affordable cost to encourage them to seek maternal health services.
- The United Nations Foundation, with support from the U.K. Department for International Development, collaborated on a project that provides electricity through renewable energy in order to improve maternal healthcare in Africa.
- In 2017, the world’s fifth development impact bond launched, creating the potential to reach up to 600,000 pregnant women with improved care during delivery in Rajasthan, India.
- Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya addressing the SDGs, explains how policies and partnerships can provide the training and resources needed to end maternal and child mortality in the Rockefeller Foundation’s #Solvable series.
Menstrual Health Abroad
Lack of education, poor access to services, and stigma contribute to the barriers toward good menstrual health around the globe.
- Education: Menstrual health education is severely lacking in some countries. For instance, a study in Asia found that 33% of the girls did not know about menstruation before experiencing their first period. A lack of education can lead to confusion and improper treatment of menstruation, potentially causing other health issues.
- Access: Many young girls do not have access to sanitary products for menstruation or knowledge on where to obtain them. Period poverty is an issue many girls face globally which forces them to use unsuitable methods to address menstruation. Some methods, such as contraceptive injections, can even put girls at risk of other serious health issues. Increasing access to sanitary products in schools, homes, and community centers can help address this issue.
- Stigma: Cultural shame and stigma is another barrier toward good menstrual health. In some cultures, period shame prohibits girls from engaging in community or religious activities, which can lead to isolation, gender discrimination, and promotion of the false idea that menstruating girls and women are not suitable to participate in activities or even touch certain things and people.
Stigma around menstruation and Menstrual Hygiene is a violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity, but also the right to non-discrimination, equality, bodily integrity, health, privacy and the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment from abuse and violence. - Dr. Jyoti Sanghera, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Who is Addressing Menstrual Hygiene Management?
- Days for Girls encourages an intersectional approach for developing menstrual equity for girls and women around the world.
- This report from WaterAID discusses menstrual hygiene programs that are already working in some countries and suitable for replication on a global scale.
- PSI’s menstrual health report in Nepal focuses on how stakeholder partnerships are critical to the advancement of menstrual health management.
- Menstrual Hygiene Day is held each year on May 28 that aims to raise awareness, break stigma, and encourages political action to advance menstrual hygiene management.
Violence Against Women
Globally, 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once through the course of their lives. And, 38.6% of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner. According to the Brookings Institution, progress has been slow in reducing violence against women.
There is an urgent need to address this issue. Women suffering from intimate partner violence are twice as likely to experience depression and 1.5 times more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection. Intimate partner violence can also exert obvious stress and in some cases, interfere with a woman's ability to work and maintain employment. Domestic violence was identified as a public health issue decades ago, yet more work needs to be done to prevent it. Health funders can take action by investing in prevention, which is underfunded in the U.S.
#MeToo Movement and Gender-based Violence
The #MeToo movement brought historic awareness to the issue of sexual-based violence that women face. However, it has not necessarily helped individuals understand how flawed systems impact how gender violence and protects perpetrators. For instance, more individuals need to understand how gender dynamics in the workplace relate to sexual harassment and violence toward females.
A 2008 report showed that only 2% of foundation funding went toward addressing gender-based violence. Both donors and the broader social sector both have opportunities to support solutions. Here’s a look at efforts to address this issue:
- The Collaborative Fund for Women’s Safety and Dignity (CFWSD) is garnering support and capital to end violence against women and battle sexual harassment.
- The World Health Organization is responding to violence against women by addressing it as a public health issue and accomplishing key hallmark achievements that reduce violence.
- Comprehensive sex education in the United States can help create a culture change around the issue of sexual assault and harassment.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has a range of programs that address anti-sexual violence through policy, training services, public education, and more.
Women’s Mental Health
Research shows that some mental illness disorders such as depression and anxiety are more common in women than in men. These health disorders are associated so closely with females based on gender roles, events, negative life experiences, and stressors. To name a few, women face physical and sexual violence at high rates, do not generate as much income as men, and face the persistent consequences of gender inequality across industries.
Who is Working to Address Women’s Mental Health?
- Young Women’s Leadership Initiative in India exemplifies the importance and help of female mentorship to create empowered women leaders.
- Arabella Advisors is documenting the importance of women’s mental health and the ways that funders can make the most impact.
- Advocacy support groups for women of color provide a space to discuss specific struggles with mental health and build support networks.
Who You Should Know: Tackling Women’s Health Issues
PSI ( Population Services International) is a global nonprofit organization spanning across the globe to provide health needs for people in developing countries. PSI uses a gender lens to understand how health issues impact women specifically.
WASHfunders is a collective of donors dedicated to solving the world’s water crisis and works on projects that address the implication of WASH issues on women’s lives.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works on initiatives focusing on maternal, newborn and child health, and is dedicated to increase the survival rate of these populations.
The Global Fund for Women is a fund that works toward advancing the rights of women and girls.
Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization driving progress in gender equality and furthering the health and rights of women.
Maverick Collective and Giving Wings is an initiative of Population Services International and hosts Giving Wing’s three year program that focuses solely on improving the menstrual health of women and girls in Nepal.
Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by working to eliminate stigmas and limitations for women and girls.
Global WA is a member-based organization that connects companies and nonprofits in Washington state that are working on global development issues.
How Donors Can Help Improve Women’s Health:
- Learn about global solutions and approaches that tackle women’s health problems worldwide.
- Read about high-impact philanthropic opportunities that invest in women and girls.
- Support women’s grassroots movements that address specific health care issues for women.
- Disrupt traditional funding patterns in development work, and work with organizations on creative financing to support youth beyond family planning.
- Discover how to change funding strategies that incorporate gender inclusion work and lens.
It will take critical investment in multiple health areas abroad and in the U.S. to ameliorate women’s health issues completely. Donors have the opportunity to get involved in various ways to attack the many layers that build the walls working against women and their health.
Where To Give to Support to Women’s Health
- Global Fund for Women
- Birth Justice Fund
- Catalyst Fund
- Empowerment and Opportunity Fund
- Groundswell Rapid Response Fund