Listening to Voices That Matter: Placing Women’s Concerns at the Core of Health Programmes
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One of the hallmark achievements in the world today is the increasing recognition that the health of women is central in the development process. Many individuals, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, policy-makers, and even multinational corporations today talk of increasing women’s access to affordable quality health. They pronounce their commitment to ensuring women’s full participation in decisions, including the development of health policies and programmes, and empowering women to protect and care for themselves. Their commitments extent to maternal and infant mortality, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Thus, at least at the level of rhetoric, there is a growing consensus that women have claims to social arrangements that protect them from the worst deprivations and abuses. The seeming `re-awakening’ towards women’s interests is against the background of various international concerns that have been expressed in various fora and documents. For example, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’Rights (1981) called for recognition of women’s rights. The 1987 Safe Motherhood Conference in Nairobi, in its “Call to Action”, recognized that: ...the causes of poor health among women and their children are deeply rooted in the adverse social, cultural, political, and economic environment of societies characterized by widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and substandard living conditions, among other factors. They are especially rooted in the environment that societies create for women, who are discriminated against in terms of legal status and access to food and proper nutrition, education, employment, financial resources and health care. This discrimination begins at birth and continues through adolescence and adulthood, where women’s contributions and roles are ignored and undervalued (Isaac S. et. al. 1987) More importantly, since the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, the WHO’s Women’s Health and Development Programme (1998), the Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development (1995), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Rights (1999) significant gains have been made in women’s rights, gender equality and reproductive health issuers in most parts of the world. The right of women to live longer and in a less stressful environment and their right of women to survive and enjoy their lives is in the context of enhancing women’s capabilities, that is, expanding their choices and opportunities so that they can lead a life of respect and value. No wonder, the agenda for sustainable human development places women's health and access to resources at the centre. However, the rosy picture stops at pronouncements and much remains to be achieved.
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