Overview: Gender, Women's Health and Ageing

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Over the years, women's health needs have been addressed through maternal and child health programmes, focusing primarily on narrow aspect of their lives. With new knowledge and changing perspectives, women's health is now being viewed holistically - as a continuum of care that starts before birth and progresses cumulatively through childhood and adolescence to adulthood and old age.

This lifecycle approach extends beyond women's reproductive role to encompass women's health at every stage and in every aspect of their lives. Through this approach, other health issues affecting women that were previously overlooked, or thought not to exist, have become more apparent.

The determinants and responses to women's health profile must consider all factors - and not only biological ones - such as the economic, social and cultural factors that affect their status, as well as gender relations between women and men. There is therefore a need for a new paradigm shift. This shift in perspectives will bring into focus the gender dimension in women's health.

However, the lifecycle and gender approaches to women's health rely heavily on the use of reliable information and data disaggregated by sex and other important variables such as age and environmental settings. Yet, this information is often lacking or difficult to access. A Regional analysis based on country profiles on women, health and human development represents a major achievement in filling these information gaps.

The ‘Women's Health Profile in the African Region-Trends and Opportunities ' should provide useful inputs for policy and programme development to ensure that gender issues and women's health concerns are addressed across all WHO health programmes. It should also lead to more research resulting in effective interventions for improving women's health and accessing quality health care.

This programme improves understanding of women's health and its underlying determinants. It facilitates advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the broad spectrum of health problems faced by women throughout their lives.