By Professor Lesley Regan, RCOG President
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognise the achievements of women without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It has been celebrated for more than 100 years, and the growing international women’s movement has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
The original aim of International Women’s Day, to achieve full gender equality for women around the world, has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are yet to be represented equally in business and politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and personal security is still worse than that for men. According to the World Economic Forum, it could still take another 100 years before the global equality gap between men and women disappears entirely.
Gender inequality damages the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women across the globe. The health and wealth of any society depends on the health and wealth of its girls and women – only by empowering girls and women, and ensuring they are treated equally in all areas of society, will individuals and nations be able to achieve their full potential.
There is still much to do to improve the health care provided to girls and women around the world, and many issues remain to be addressed. This will only occur if healthcare professionals and policy-makers work as advocates for the right of girls and women to receive safe, high-quality, sustainable health care, not only investing in health systems but also addressing the social, economic and cultural factors that underlie the current inequity.
2018 also marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the UK and women’s rights have dominated recent news, with a global reckoning on sexual misconduct rippling through industries. The world has witnessed a significant shift in attitude towards women’s equality and emancipation and I am working hard to ensure that this shift continues to happen.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, the College held an event on the role of healthcare professionals caring for women affected by conflict abroad and in the UK. Millions of women are affected by conflict throughout the world and all too frequently overlooked.
In times of war, the rate of maternal mortality is 2.5 times higher than average in conflict and post-conflict countries. Death from violent conflict is not a widely acknowledged contributor of maternal mortality. While the war reports of mortality usually focus on male soldiers, it is estimated that around 140 000 women die in conflict every year. An unknown proportion of these women are pregnant at the time of death and contribute to the 303,000 women expected to die in pregnancy and childbirth this year. Furthermore, essential reproductive health services crumble during times of conflict, with women struggling to access the basic healthcare and contraceptive needs.
The RCOG aims to reach out to all corners of the world and to use its influence and skills to improve the health of all girls and women. The aim of this meeting was to bring together those who work in this challenging area, so we can learn from their experiences and define a way forward that will ensure we can make a greater contribution.
Attendees learnt about the role of education in conflict, girl’s and women’s rights to health, the challenges to delivering care and how to best support girls and women who are receiving care both abroad and in the UK.
In the words of Professor Mahmoud Fatallah, founder of the Safer Motherhood Initiative and a world-renowned academic, clinician and activist for women’s health, ‘Women are not dying of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to decide that their lives are worth saving’.
The global theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “press for progress”; a welcome reminder that we need to push ahead with achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3, to ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages’, and Sustainable Development Goal 5, to ‘Ensure gender equality and empower all girls and women’ by 2030. I would encourage you all to continue to push for these goals in all that you do, as I will be doing in my work as President of the College.