Five-year plan works to empower women, address gender differences in health
Washington, D.C., 9 November 2009 (PAHO) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today launched a new five-year effort to boost gender equality in health in Latin America and the Caribbean through health policies and programs that take account of and address the different health needs and risks faced by men and women.
Photo by Sonia Mey-Schmidt (PAHO/WHO)
"We now have a plan that belongs to all of us," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago. It is "a plan aimed at reducing those inequalities between women and men, girls and boys that prevent them from enjoying optimum health, accessing health services and contributing to health and development."
The new PAHO Regional Plan of Action for Implementing the Gender Equality Policy, approved by PAHO’s Directing Council meeting in early October, notes the persistent inequalities between men and women in the Americas region as well as the different and often inequitable health profiles and health risks faced by women and men. The plan lays out strategic actions intended to shape health policies and interventions that take account of those differences.
According to PAHO data, one in three women in the Americas suffers violence at the hands of a domestic partner. In contrast, among men, injuries and violent deaths are mostly related to traffic accidents, homicide, occupational accidents, suicide, and substance abuse. Gender inequalities can also be seen in access to health services in the Region and in relatively high maternal mortality rates, unmet needs for family planning, adolescent pregnancies, high cervical cancer rates, and an increase of HIV infection among young women in many Caribbean countries.
Gender differences can affect men’s health adversely as well. For example, men tend to take more risks beginning in childhood and continuing through adulthood, with behaviors including risky sexual encounters, violence, alcohol and substance abuse, and reluctance to practice prevention or seek health care. In general, men have lower life expectancy than women, but elderly women are less likely than men to have social protection through pensions or insurance, since almost half of women who work devote their time to caring for others without remuneration.
The PAHO plan lays out actions that address these differences in the following strategic areas:
- Improving the evidence base for policies and programs through the production, analysis, and use of information disaggregated by sex and related variables.
- Developing tools and training that help PAHO and its Member States integrate a gender equality perspective into the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of health policies and programs.
- Increasing participation by civil society, especially women’s groups and other advocates, in priority setting, policy making, and the monitoring of progress in policies and programs at the local, national, and regional levels.
- Institutionalizing gender-responsive policies and mechanisms for monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of gender interventions.
The PAHO plan also calls for sex parity in hiring and career development for staff in countries’ ministries of health staff and in PAHO headquarters and country offices.
Reducing gender inequality is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG-3), and United Nations and other development agencies have put growing emphasis on the need to empower women to enhance their contributions to development.