WHO marks International Women's Day by stressing "Empower rural women: end hunger and poverty"

The WHO Western Pacific Region is marking International Women's Day 2012 (8 March) by drawing attention to the health of adolescent girls and young women, especially in rural areas across the Region.

International Women's Day celebrates women's economic, political and social achievements and renews calls for gender equality and women's empowerment. The United Nations has chosen the theme: "Empower rural women: end hunger and poverty" to mark the Day this year.

"The empowerment of rural women is central to the fulfilment of our public health goals," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Rural women need support, information and access to resources. Without those essentials, it will be difficult for them to meet the challenges they face."

WHO has released on the occasion an information sheet, Adolescent girls and young women in the Western Pacific Region: 10 key health challenges.

The health needs of women and girls in rural areas are often neglected, compared to the needs of those in urban areas, and their access to services is often too low. For example, only 39% of births in rural areas in Cambodia are attended by skilled personnel, while the figure for births in urban areas is 70%. In the Philippines, the figures are 41% and 79% respectively. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the gap between rural and urban is even wider: 11% versus 68%.

Women and girls, in particular, encounter numerous constraints in accessing affordable, adequate health services in rural areas. These include affordability, restrictions on their mobility, lack of transport and too little information or awareness. For example, rural girls and adolescents (especially married adolescents) account for more than 71% of population groups in Mongolia among whom lack of knowledge of symptoms of common sexually transmitted infections is found to be widespread. Holistic health services that address the physical, as well as mental and emotional well-being of rural women and girls are needed in rural areas.

Empowering rural women and girls can contribute to improving their health and ending hunger and poverty in their communities. On International Women's Day, WHO reaffirms its commitment to addressing gender inequality, promoting women and girls’ empowerment and improving their health at all stages of life.

The International Women’s Day website has chosen the theme “Connecting girls, inspiring futures” for this year. Adolescent girls have great potential to contribute to social and economic achievements within rural communities, if empowered and meaningfully connected with their peers. Ensuring their good health and access to services and opportunities is critical for their healthy futures and the future of communities and society. Healthy girls and women make healthy families, communities and nations.

WHO regards this day as an opportunity to strengthen awareness and actions to improve the health of adolescent girls and young women. Adolescent girls face multiple challenges to protecting their health, including poverty, gender inequality and lack of adolescent-friendly services. Their key health issues include alcohol and tobacco use, high prevalence of malnutrition and poor sexual and reproductive health. Without adequate support, information and access to resources, it will be difficult for adolescent girls to meet the challenges they face, says WHO.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Ardi Kaptiningsih
Regional Adviser, Making Pregnancy Safer/Women and Reproductive Health
Maternal, Child and Nutrition Unit
Division, Building Healthy Communities and Populations
World Health Organization, Western Pacific Regional Office
Tel: (632) 528 9876; Fax: (632) 528 8001; GPN: 89876
E-mail: kaptiningsiha@wpro.who.int

Anjana Bhushan
Technical Officer (Health in Development)
Division for Health Sector Development
Western Pacific Regional Office
World Health Organization
Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63-2 528-9814; Fax: +63-2 528-9072
E-mail: bhushana@wpro.who.int