Irrespective of which Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is sought to be addressed for women, it is evident that there is need to empower them across verticals
The World Health Organization places importance on gender as a social determinant of health and states that while women’s health is affected by their biology, it is also affected by their social conditions. These include poverty, employment and family responsibilities, which must not be overlooked.
Women in rural areas are amongst the most vulnerable members of society. They are at a higher risk of malnutrition, stunting, anemia, urinary and menstrual diseases, and pregnancy related complications. This is a result of restrictive mindsets typical of a patriarchal society, leading to inequities on account of gender discrimination such as lack of education and insufficient opportunities. Unfortunately, many of their health conditions go undiagnosed owing to lack of awareness, low literacy rates, inability to make informed decisions and poor financial status, thereby limiting the potential of women. This makes a strong case for a concerted action plan to ensure marginalised women are specifically addressed to successfully achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 on Health and Well-being.
Tackling issues relating to income, food, hygiene, literacy and gender equity is essential for a positive impact on health outcomes. As such, health and general well-being can be achieved by ending poverty in all its forms (SDG 1), achieving food security and ensuring food nutrition (SDG 2), inclusive and equitable education (SDG 4), achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (SDG 5), availability of water and sanitation (SDG 6), and inclusive and sustained economic growth (SDG 8). A convergent approach ensuring these SDG goals is essential to achieve the desired outcome of sustained health and well-being of the rural female population.A three-pronged approach is India’s answer to stride towards good health.
Mindset: Communication & Capacity Building
Patriarchal norms and mindset of people must undergo radical change for women to be truly assimilated, both economically and societally. This will require sustained efforts and consistent communication aimed at getting menfolk to appreciate the value of integrating women. Simultaneously, it is important for the outlook of women to also evolve, which is possible by empowering them though capacity building initiatives right from their foundational years and supplementing this with handholding through the various stages of their lifecycle.
During their foundational years, adolescent girls should be provided with guidance and knowledge on the importance of nutrition, hygiene, and life skills – essentially, inculcating health seeking attitude. However, there are different challenges at various stages of life. Therefore, women must be mentored through their life cycle to adopt self-advocacy and move towards achieving financial and social independence.
System Strengthening: Frontline workers, infrastructure and technology
Reinforcing our healthcare system will entail people, infrastructure, and technology. India’s Female Frontline Health Workers (FFHW), the fulcrum on which India’s health system revolves, need to be continuously bolstered. Indeed, this all-women army of Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), helpers, supervisors, and District Child Development Protection Officers (CDPOs) are the first point of contact for rural communities where critical and life-saving healthcare services are needed the most and must be delivered in a timely manner. Apart from regular training for AWWs, it is important to enhance their technology skills, too. This will enable them to capture data, ensure assigned service delivery, and push for intervention wherever required thereby enhancing efficiency of the FFHW.
Concurrently, our communities deserve infrastructure improvement at the initial point of access – the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and Community Health Centres (CHCs). Upgrading the equipment and appointing medical professionals to these health facilities will lead to significant benefits such as limiting medical complications, which arise due to delayed interventions. Further, affordable healthcare facilities must also be available to vulnerable communities through Ayushman Bharat or low-cost private sector engagement.
Finally, the most important aspect is strengthening the system using technology; be it data collation, information dissemination, telemedicine or medical knowledge advancement and sharing. Addressing this will complete the circle of health prosperity.
Knowledge has innumerable benefits. Elementary education forms an individual’s thought process in the foundational years. The middle years sharpen cognitive skills, while the functional years guide them towards self-reliance. Once a girl is educated, she is not just given a platform to learn but a path to break cultural barriers and stereotypes; she is also then able to voice aspirations, profess self-advocacy, understand the importance of self-care, take initial strides towards financial independence and, most importantly, comprehend the importance of educating the next generation. Indeed, literacy has a multiplier effect on gender equity, opportunity and inter-generational change. Health is not just the absence of diseases; human development expert Dr Ginsburg proposed the 7 C model for communities to prepare children to thrive – competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. To achieve resilience, adolescent girls should be educated and enlightened to be future ready and step-up towards progressive womanhood.
Irrespective of which SDG we aim to address for our women, it is evident that we need to empower them across verticals. Social equity is essential to enhance development measures. This requires an enabling ecosystem where they will be vested with knowledge, inclusivity, and economic prospects. Collective action from multiple stakeholders (government, private sector, NGOs, CBOs, and civil society) is a non-negotiable ask to create an environment where the pillars of mindset change, system strengthening, and education form the bedrock that will embolden our girls and women to cast aside their constraints and march ahead.
- Shaifalika Panda is Trustee and Chief Executive Officer, Bansidhar and Ila Panda Foundation and Chief of CSR, Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys (IMFA)