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As International Women’s Day 2023 approaches – the first in the post-pandemic period – we must collectively reflect on why this year’s theme Embrace Equity is essential to the global health agenda.

Questions are still being raised about how gender equality, health and wellbeing intersect, but these are inextricably linked. Women’s and girls’ health is often deprioritised due to unequal power relations and harmful gender stereotypes that prevent them from equitably accessing healthcare or attaining health for themselves and their families.

This stands in contrast to long-standing recognition that women’s access to healthcare is a requirement for global health and a human right. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, for example, recognised that women and girls have a right to economic empowerment and to have lives during which they are not persecuted because of their gender. Yet, in 2021, 26 years after the launch of this global gender equality framework, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take 136 years for gender equality to be reached.

Inequities have worsened during the covid-19 pandemic. First, many women’s health services and movements have been defunded or stopped during the global crisis amidst the rerouting of resources to the pandemic response, and they may not be returned.

Second, women’s representation among leadership positions in health and pandemic response has been low, leading to urgent alarms that gender equality is dangerously backsliding. And third, basic protections for women at their most vulnerable, during pregnancy and birth, are declining to a shocking degree: the World Health Organization revealed on 23 February 2023, that maternal health is now deteriorating in much of the world and that a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes.

“Reproductive health - which requires not just quality, respectful healthcare but a recognition of women’s rights to autonomy and choice - is the epitome of gender equity in health and thus a global cardinal cause for concern. ”
Dr Jocalyn Clark, International Editor, The BMJ

In 2022, UNFPA highlighted the extent to which many global pregnancies are unintended due to a lack of access to reproductive health. Unintended pregnancies can result in women being forced to exit a labour market that is not designed to support pregnant women or women returning from longer periods of maternity leave or in precarious work circumstances.

Without proper support, women who have children may be unable to return to the labour market, or face other forms of pregnancy discrimination.

UN Women highlights that these vulnerabilities can exacerbate women’s risk of poverty, as worldwide, women disproportionately hold positions in the informal labour market and are usually not covered by labour laws. Overall, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health, and have poorer sexual and reproductive health outcomes compared to men. 

As a finale to their last meeting at Hunter College, the Sub-commission on the Status of Women hold a press conference in the delegates lounge of the gym building. Left to Right: Angela Jurdak (Lebanon), Fryderyka Kalinowski (Poland), Bodgil Begtrup (Denmark), Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), and Hansa Mehta (India), delegates to the Sub-commission on the Status of Women, New York, May 1946. UN Photo
Credit: As a finale to their last meeting at Hunter College, the Sub-commission on the Status of Women hold a press conference in the delegates lounge of the gym building. Left to Right: Angela Jurdak (Lebanon), Fryderyka Kalinowski (Poland), Bodgil Begtrup (Denmark), Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), and Hansa Mehta (India), delegates to the Sub-commission on the Status of Women, New York, May 1946. UN Photo
“Embracing equity means meeting these challenges with urgency and focus - to mobilise worldwide cooperation and investment in gender-responsive programmes, research and public health campaigns. "”
Dr Jennifer Martin, BMJ Senior Partnerships Manager

The annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on March 6-17, 2023, coincides with International Women’s Day. It is no better time to discuss the spectrum of issues through a gender lens – from climate justice to economic empowerment – all of which are ingredients for good health.

This year marks the 67th session of CSW, an event that evaluates progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, reviews the 12-month gain since CSW66, and explores new commitments around the theme of innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Hosting a non-governmental organisation (NGO) forum concurrently with the formal programme acknowledges the value of cross-sectoral collaboration and grassroots activities. It strengthens the cause by providing a platform that optimises knowledge, curates global partnerships, ignites advocacy efforts, and offers civil society the opportunity to engage with global health and gender equality decision-makers.

Women’s and girls’ health and inequalities require further commitment, financing, and attention from global health actors. Priorities need to be decentralised and tailored  to regions, countries, health systems, and communities, with leaders from in-country and within regions being the elevated and prioritised voices around the table. 

All research and advocacy must apply intersectional and rights-based approaches, systems thinking, and a holistic lens to address the drivers underpinning poor health in women and girls. The roadmap for such an approach was laid out in the 2020 The BMJ Collection on Women’s Health and Inequalities, covering the full spectrum of priorities for women’s rights and health today and into the future. 

We also require more women in leadership roles in health so that they can prioritise gender-responsive programmes and policies and gender-disaggregated data. We need health systems and stakeholders to embrace equity. 

There will be no health for all without women’s health. 

#EmbraceEquity #CSW67 #IWD23




Dr Jennifer Martin is Senior Partnerships Manager at BMJ. She is an award-winning researcher, technical specialist, and activist with over 14 years of experience in public health programmes focusing on gender equality, social innovation, and sexual and reproductive health.

Jenni has led the global menstrual health movement, Pandemic Periods, since its inception in 2020. She continues transforming global menstrual health by elevating activists from 27 countries by offering them a platform to share their unique insights into menstrual health in their context.

Jenni is a dedicated activist; she has advocated for menstrual health since 2014 through grassroots initiatives and global programmes. She founded women in global health Finland, is committed to supporting early career professionals to break into the global health market, and is a mentor to several young women worldwide.

She has an NIHR-funded PhD in Public Health from the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and a master’s from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Connect with Jenni on LinkedIn


Dr Jocalyn Clark is International Editor for The BMJ. She has proven expertise and leadership in advancing action on the social determinants of health and climate change, gender equality, and delivering evidence-based content, policy, and strategy across international editorial environments. 

In 2019 she was elected to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences for her role in advancing international perspectives and gender equity in health.

She is also an advisor to Global Health 50/50 and WomenLift Health, Chair of the Governance Council of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and a WHO Research Group on Health Statistics member.

Follow @jocalynclark 

If you would like to discuss any of these points in this thought leadership piece or learn more about BMJ, get in touch with us today.

Dr Jennifer Martin
Senior Partnerships Manager

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