Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Women's health: women's health is a global issue

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 01 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1154
  1. Naomi Craft, freelance medical journalista
  1. a Gower Place Practice, London WC1E 6BN


    All over the world, women live longer than men.1 The largest differences are in eastern Europe, the Baltic states, and central Asia. In the Russian Federation women live 12 years longer than men; in most developing countries the differences are smaller, with women outliving men by only 3 years in Africa.

    In developing countries, life expectancy for both sexes has increased from 40 to 63 years since 1960, and in countries with high incomes it is now at least 75 years.2 Only in Uganda and Zambia has life expectancy dropped—from 48 to 43 for women and from 46 to 43 for men—due to the impact of AIDS.1

    Although women are living longer, they do not necessarily live better, healthier lives. In developing countries, communicable diseases, together with illnesses relating to childbirth, account for most morbidity in women (fig 1). In the developed world too, women are sicker than men, according to their own assessments of their physical and psychological wellbeing.3

    Lesley Doyal, professor of health and social care at the University of Bristol, explains that “While women risk contracting the same endemic diseases as men, both biological and social factors may increase exposure or worsen the effects.” 3

    Summary points

    Although women live longer than men, they are less healthy

    Because of the strong preference for male children in many parts of the world, women receive inferior nutrition and healthcare from birth

    Poverty, discrimination, and violence have a great adverse effect on women's health

    Projects which aim to reduce gender inequalities are focusing on educating and empowering women by encouraging both sexes to challenge gender stereotypes

    Global influences on women's health

    Some things affect women more often than men, regardless of where they live. These include poverty, changing demography (birth rates and an aging population), gender, violence against women, and lack of research …

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