Finding New Ways to Measure Women’s Health For Better Policy

Women have been disproportionately affected by the ravages of the global pandemic. Yet COVID-19 has also served to highlight health, including women’s health to an unprecedented degree. This week at the UN General Assembly, we heard how both the private and public sectors are finding new ways to gather accurate information about the state of women’s health. The hope is that this information will lead to changes in access to care and updated policies.    

A new tool that is helping in this effort is the Global Women’s Health Index created by the U.S.-based health care provider Hologic. To create the initial Index, Hologic surveyed  more than 100,000 women and men living in 116 countries and speaking over 40 languages in 2020 to collect a staggering 36 million data points. The picture that is emerging from this data is sobering: 40% of women globally did not see a doctor last year. “Women’s health around the world is still woefully behind” agrees CEO, Steve MacMillan when he spoke this week at the Concordia Annual Summit in New York.  

Women comprise nearly half of the global population yet 1.5 billion women worldwide had not been tested for any of the four most critical diseases in the previous 12 months. The Index ranks countries based on a combined and weighted score of five aspects linked to higher female life expectancy. These include preventive care, basic health care needs, and emotional health. Taiwan currently tops the list globally followed by Austria and Finland. On the other end of the scale are Iraq, Venezuela, and Peru. With this data, MacMillan hopes to approach governments with concrete goals for how they can go about improving healthcare for women. 

Another tool, the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, was initiated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with UN Women and is designed to assess responses by governments through a “gender lens”. This means focusing on women’s participation in COVID-19 task forces and looking at how policy measures address women’s economic and social security, such as policies related to unpaid care work, violence against women, and the labor market. The Tracker draws on data from the UNDP’s COVID-19 Data Futures Platform which in turn gathers its own data from the UN network, NGO partners, academia, and governments around the world. 

Currently, the Tracker shows that only 24% of women globally are involved in COVID-19 task forces. The lowest numbers were in Asia (15%) and Africa (19%) and the highest in Europe (31%) and America (29%). Europe and the Americas lead on gender sensitive policy, particularly those focused on addressing violence against women. However there are low scores across the board when it comes to policies that support unpaid care work and economic security for women. The Tracker is designed to provide guidance for policymakers and empirical evidence for advocates to ensure a gender-sensitive COVID-19 policy response. However its application in a post-COVID world speaks to more gender equal policies and one where women’s health will gain wider currency.  

Souwie Buis

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