How Investing in Women’s Health Enhances Economic Prosperity – @Lanre_Olagunju

Published:17 Jul, 2014

Lanre Olagunju
Lanre Olagunju

In his speech during the 2013 International Women’s Day celebration, Barack Obama said “empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” …when women succeed, nations are safer, more secure, and more prosperous.” It is essential to note that one of the most important forms of empowerment women and children deserve is the empowerment that caters for their health, because outside good health, any other form of empowerment can’t yield appreciable result.

The health of women can’t be clearly separated from the bigger issues concerned with empowering women. To buttress that point, and see the nexus more clearly, we might need to critically ponder on the UNDP Human Development Report, 2009 which claims that 19 of the 20 countries at the bottom of the United Nations Gender Development Index are in the African Region where women carry a colossal share of the world’s burden of disease and death?

We can’t but keep the health of women and children prominent in the post 2015 agenda. In fact, the commitment to the well being of women and children as it is, is a life long commitment.  We won’t be able to say at any point that we are done with the health of women and children. No we won’t! To say so is to be ready to watch and allow the most vulnerable and most isolated in our society waste away like they don’t matter.

With all the technological advancementsand innovations that our world has recorded, it’s easy to lose sight of the reality that far too many women and children are still dying needlessly for all the wrong reasons you can think of. According to UNFPA, 6.6million children die each year for several reasons.Another report has it that 5.5 million babies enter and leave the planet without a birth or even death certificate. We gradually are becoming numb to these realities, because alreadywe are beginning to see them as mere statistics. No, that shouldn’t  be! We need to start seeing women  and children as the solution. Women in many societies of the world are caregivers, and to a large extent the health and well-being of the child solely lies on the health of the mother. My heart bleeds each time I see a child who survives the mother, I agonize over the heap of sufferings and challenges that such a child will have to go through if the child must live to maturity.

There are a whole lot of benefits in putting the health of women to the fore of national and global discussions. Basically because women’s health is first a human right, and in every sense it should be treated as such. At the same time, there are a couple of socio-economic reasons why these rights should be promoted and taken seriously, basically because it affects the progress and prosperity of every society.

From the sense that health enhances labour productivity, it is important to note that it is only when a women’s health is in good shape that she can make economic contributions to boost the well being of her children. It has been discovered that in cases where women are income earners, they tend to spend more of their earnings on things that benefit the family. Also, it has been discovered that children tend to stay in school when their mothers are alive, well and sound. A study taken in Tanzania affirms that a child’s attendance in school might drop following the death of the mother. The study showed that in families where the mother is late, kids spend half as much time in school compared to cases where the mother is alive and healthy.

This helps to show the huge economic loss attached to just seeing women as statistics or reducing them to objects of childbearing. Investing in women’s health doesn’t just improve the life of their children, it also goes a long way in affecting economic outcomes.  That we may see these things clearly and be able to put them in proper perspective, we first must identify the things women do to contribute to economic prosperity, either directly or indirectly.

One of the very clear sectors where women contribute as much as men or even more, as it is evident in some African countries is in the area of Agriculture. Let’s take Uganda for example, where women produce between 60-80 percent of the food. From the stand point that agriculture is a major source of livelihood for the country, and noting that women play a major role in such sector, it will be only be wise that the health of women benefit from huge investments through well structured health care system which will also pay good attention to maternal and newborn health issues.

We all generally need to do more in terms of getting policy makers to increase their commitment to ensure that women break free from the shackles of illiteracy, poverty, sickness and diseases, singularly because these things have kept women from maximizing their total worth and essence.

 I am @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

P.S A large part of this piece was first Published on the African Union Website CARMMA

The views expressed above are solely that of the author. 

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