As a woman who has been working in global health for two decades and the mother of two girls, I think a lot about how to remove the roadblocks that hold women back. At PATH, health equality for women and children is a top priority—and it’s been a passion of mine throughout my career.
Yet there’s one question I’m often asked when I talk about women’s health: what about men?
The reasons we focus on women and children are compelling, driven by a wealth of data, and include good news for men. So today, as we look toward International Women’s Day on Saturday, I’d like to offer three reasons why investing in women is smart strategy and good practice.
No. 1: investing in women yields gains for everyone
There’s no question that girls and women bear the brunt of poverty and poor health, and that millions miss out on education, opportunities, and health care. In sub-Saharan Africa, twice as many young women are living with HIV as young men. An estimated 222 million women want but can’t access appropriate family planning. When food is scarce, women—even pregnant women—are still frequently the last to eat. And a woman dies every two minutes from complications in pregnancy and childbirth—almost always in a poor country, and often from causes that we already know how to prevent and treat.
Our collective outrage is one reason to tackle this inequality. But we have another reason, too: when women thrive, their families, communities, and countries thrive.
Better health, education, and opportunities for women expand economies, increase productivity, and support political stability.They empower women to raise healthier children, and more of those children survive. And when women stay well, their work as leaders, farmers, and mothers supports the entire community.
Put simply, improving women’s health and well-being is a smart investment in all people.
No. 2: our efforts are working
We also know that these investments work. Since 1990, global efforts have nearly halved the number of women who die in pregnancy or childbirth. Improved family planning options like Sayana Press, the Woman’s Condom, and the SILCS diaphragm are allowing women to choose whether or when to have children. Better screening and prevention for cervical cancer, especially in poor countries, is saving women’s lives. And women and men everywhere are rooting out the gender-based violence that threatens women on the street and in their own homes.
No 3: our work is backed by global commitment
Together, these efforts are creating measurable and lasting improvement. What’s more, they’re backed by a collective global push that amplifies efforts at every level. Today, the world is committing bold resources to putting girls and women first. Local communities are mobilizing to improve women’s health and make pregnancy and birth safer. National governments are investing in effective, measurable, and sustainable approaches. Businesses and donors are injecting new resources and accountability into efforts. And nonprofits, including PATH, are linking innovators to bring lifesaving vaccines, diagnostics, drugs, devices, and services to more women and children.
All of this adds up to smart strategy. Empowering girls and women doesn’t just address one problem, or two, or ten. It changes the game. It is one of the fastest and most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and poor health.
So this International Women’s Day, I would like to challenge you to do two things. First, I hope you’ll keep asking the kinds of questions that inspired this post. Then, I invite you to join us to find smart, strategic answers. It’s that kind of tenacity that is leading PATH, together with communities and partners, to transformative health solutions for women, children—and men—worldwide.