Women: The Key to Good Health
It’s no coincidence that International Women’s Day on March 7th immediately precedes World Health Day on April 7th. It is impossible to achieve the UN’s 3rd Sustainable Development Goal-- to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”—without shining a spotlight on women.
After all, they make crucial decisions every day about what to feed their families, how to handle water and hygiene and when and where to seek medical treatment. That’s why arming women with the knowledge they need to protect the health of their families, like the Grannies Project in Uganda, is one of the most important ways that FSD supports world health.
Still, many crucial health decisions are not women’s to make alone. In most households, women must negotiate with their partners and convince them to take critical steps to protect their families’ health. Such is the case with the use of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria and the use of condoms for family planning and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. That’s also why FSD partners with both women and men to address health. We’ve seen that men’s behavior is most easily influenced by their peers. FSD’s partners work with peer advisors and health advocates of all ages and genders to influence the peer networks already active at the community level. (It’s also why we included men in HIV prevention workshops in Kakamega, Kenya--an inclusive measure that is still a rarity in that part of the world.)
We’re also addressing the economic obstacles to good health by supporting microfinance and business development initiatives to help women start and grow businesses. Studies have shown that when women have an independent source of income, they tend to have greater control over the spending of that money. Most choose to spend their profits on the health, nutrition, and education of their families. Therefore, helping women increase their incomes helps them invest in their health and that of their families, putting into practice what they’ve learned through health education and outreach efforts. Just this past year, FSD volunteers and partners in Nicaragua have supported female business owners to the benefit of themselves and their families.
Women play a central role in nutrition. All too often, women who are dependent on their husbands for the daily or weekly household budget receive far too little money to purchase and serve nutritious food to their families. As an example: while women in much of the world provide the bulk of the labor on farms, the men in the family tend to make the key decisions in what to plant and how to plant. They also control the funds from the sale of the primary cash crops.
Often, women have some discretion in planting food for the family. That’s why many FSD partners work with women to create kitchen or patio gardens where even urban women can grow vegetables to supplement their families’ diets and stretch their household income further. They also work with women and schools to increase the productivity of existing garden plots through improved, organic and sustainable agricultural practices and irrigation. It is especially heartening when we can serve a community’s most vulnerable people, as was the case when we planted a vegetable garden at a pediatric oncology clinic in Cochabamba, Bolivia--an urban garden that continues to thrive.
Sadly, in spite of their vital role in the health of the family, women themselves all too often do without. They are typically the last to eat—serving their husbands and children the best food and eating the scraps themselves. They rarely seek health care for themselves, instead relying on home remedies and powering on through their busy days until it is too late. But, when women are sick, the whole family suffers. They can’t operate their businesses, care for their children, fetch water or cook nutritious meals for the family. A single health crisis—such as birth complications, cervical cancer or diabetes—can send the whole family spiraling deeper into poverty.
It doesn’t have to be this way. At FSD we support making health services accessible and affordable for women, but most of all, we support making women and their health a priority. Thank you for helping to support the work we do.