Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 1: Women's Health Is a Community Issue
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When a woman is healthy, she has the energy and strength to do her daily work, to fulfill the many roles she has in her family and community, and to build satisfying relationships with others. In other words, a woman’s health affects every area of her life. Yet for many years, ‘women’s health care’ has meant little more than maternal health services such as care during pregnancy and birth. These services are necessary, but they address women’s needs only as mothers.
In this book we offer a different view of women’s health. First, we believe that every woman has a right to complete health care, throughout her life. A woman’s health care should help her in all areas of life—not just in her role as a wife and mother. Second, we believe that a woman’s health is affected not just by the way her body is made, but by the social, cultural, and economic conditions in which she lives.
Good health is more than the absence of disease. Good health means the well-being of a woman’s body, mind, and spirit.
While men's health is also affected by these factors, women as a group are treated differently from men. They usually have less power and fewer resources, and lower status in the family and community. This basic inequality means that:
- more women than men suffer from poverty.
- more women than men are denied the education and skills to support themselves.
- more women than men lack access to important health information and services.
- more women than men lack control over their basic health care decisions.
This larger view helps us understand the underlying (root) causes of women’s poor health. Improving women’s health includes treating their health problems, but it also requires changing the conditions of their lives so they can gain more power over their own health.
When this happens, everyone—the woman, her family and community—benefits. A healthy woman has a chance to fulfill all of her potential. Plus, she will have healthier babies, be better able to care for her family, and can contribute more to her community. This kind of view also helps us see that a woman’s health problem is almost never her problem alone. Women’s health is a community issue.