The world will mark International Women’s Day on March 8th. This day helps to rededicate global attention towards issues around gender equality, education, emancipation, parity and health. The strides that the world has made towards these universal ideals between men and women has been praiseworthy.
Women achievers in diverse fields like politics, the arts, culture, medicine, business and public service have helped set new benchmarks, aspirations and standards for all citizens of the world. With two leading contenders in the Democratic race for nomination in the US Presidential Elections and the election of a woman as the President of the European Commission has reiterated the notion that not
many glass ceilings are left to shatter for women.
In India, the recent Supreme Court judgment to bring parity for women in the Armed Forces was welcomed across the political and gender aisle. The success of women in hitherto men dominated fields like wrestling have inspired many more girls to choose fields that they wish to excel in rather the one most appropriate.
The Government’s push for novel schemes like Beti Padao, Beti Bachao amongst others have led to a renewed focus on areas like education for girls in our country. These efforts have led to admirable improvements in the gender ratio, maternal mortality rates, life expectancy and other parameters for women in country over the past two decades.
As we mark these achievements, India must do more for women’s health. India has amongst the largest disease burden of breast cancer in the world, with a rising trend of cardiovascular disease amongst women also being witnessed. Female stunting due to malnutrition and inequities in providing health services to girls vis-a-vis boys continues to be a major public health issue. Other issues like gender violence and mental health in women remains inadequately addressed amongst the milieu.
As India aspires towards leadership in the 21 st century, the health of its women will need to become centerstage. Without Indian women attaining health standards comparable with middle- and high-income nations, the full potential of its rise will remain unachieved. The Government must initiate a series of national health programs targeted towards a holistic approach towards health issues amongst women. Second, tax incentives for deductions for expenses incurred on women’s health needs serious attention. Third, new infrastructure focused on women and children’s health needs to be fast tracked. Fourth, super specialties focused on women’s health like those in cancers, heart disease and mental health need to be evolved. Indeed, Indian medical education can become a pioneer in such subjects given the scant attention they currently receive. Fifth, women’s wellness needs to become a movement through awareness and use of social networks – both on and offline.
International Women’s Day helps mark an important journey on gender equality and health that the world has moved towards since the women’s emancipation movement a few decades ago. However, the final destination of this journey remains someway off. The need for focus on women’s health and accelerated policies towards achieving these goals must become central to public health policy in India and the world.