Letter from the Editors
Welcome to the fifth issue of Women Across Frontiers, which we devote to a critical issue of public policy: Women and Health.
Health is a fundamental human right. Yet, around the world, a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, age, and income, as well as socio-cultural norms, determine her or his ability to access health care.
In a way, good health care is now a luxury product, and devising a health care system that effectively and affordably serves the needs of all citizens is a complex endeavor. According to the WHO, each year, “more than 150 million people face catastrophic health care costs” and even if they are able to pay, just finding a doctor is often a major challenge.
Women’s health care needs—physical and mental—are obviously different from those of men. For example, WHO data show that unsafe abortions are among the leading cause of death for women; more than 1,000 women die every day as a result of pregnancy and childbirth; and between 50,000 and 10,000 women each year are affected by obstetric fistula. In some cases, women are more prone than men to develop a particular disease, such as Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers, such as breast cancer.
Furthermore, research reveals a deep gender and racial bias in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions, and the prescription of medication. For example, children born to African-American women are one and a half times more likely to die than babies with a Hispanic, Asian, or white mother. Access to birth control, safe and legal abortions, post-natal care, and effective, scientific sex education in schools are therefore essential steps toward improving women’s reproductive health and reduce maternal deaths.
Around the world, mental illness carries a deep stigma and prevents many women—and men—from seeking help. As our story on Ghana shows, in many communities, a single person with a mental illness can turn an entire family into outcasts and make their offspring unmarriageable. In the United States, depression is the most common women’s mental health condition with about one in eight American women developing clinical depression at one point in their lives; however, fewer than half of them will ever seek care.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBT youth, and American men of all ages and ethnicities are four times more likely than women to commit suicide. In India, perfectly healthy women can be forcibly committed to mental institutions by their husbands who want to divorce them.
Clearly, this needs to change.
Initiatives such as The Ark Foundation in Ghana, which provides support to thousands of women and children who have been victims of abuse, violence, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, and trafficking, or Sweet Readers, which brings together middle schoolers and adults with Alzheimer’s disease, are inspiring grassroots organizations. The recently created High Level Group of the EU Commission, which will work to generate high-level political support to expand access to health and human rights for women, children, and adolescents everywhere, is another step in the right direction.
Individual and collective action to put pressure on governments to promote policy change and to make additional resources available for more doctors and affordable health care services is what is needed now.
Thank you for your readership and support.
Karina, Sylvia and the entire WAF team
-Ryan Villarreal examines the ideology of sex education around the world.
-Christine Haran highlights how Latinas in the US have benefited from the Affordable Care Act.
-Dr Ali Mokdad describes the crisis of women’s health in Saudi Arabia and urges making gender-appropriate sports and exercise facilities available for women.
-Karina Mirochnik and Sylvia Maier interview Margaret Crane, the inventor the first home pregnancy kit in 1967.
-Olivier Gee discusses the stigma of breastfeeding in France.
-Magdalena Medley reviews Shrill, Lindy West’s brilliant feminist memoir about body image and coming into her own.