Panafrican News Agency

Women still face challenges despite many successes in past century - WHO boss

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Women still face a lot of challenges despite the advances made in the past 100 years that have improved the health of women and girls, according to the Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan.

In a speech to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day Monday, Dr. Chan noted that over the past 100 years, many advances have improved the health of women and girls, listing as examples social and legal reforms regarding the minimum age of marriage and sexual consent; access to safe abortion services (where legal), contraception, mammograms and other health technologies; and progress towards ending harmful practices such as sexual and gender-based violence.

''Yes, there is much to celebrate on this 100th anniversary. But we are also faced with challenges,'' she said in the statement, a copy of which was made available to PANA here.

''Maternal mortality rates and HIV rates among young women are still too high, tobacco consumption among women is increasing, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence continue to be widespread, and there is an increasingly heavy burden of noncommunicable
diseases on women,'' the WHO Director-General said..

Touching on the theme of this year's anniversay, which is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women", she said education and training equip girls and women with skills needed to protect their health but social norms deny many the chance to attend and complete primary and secondary levels of education.

''This negatively affects fertility and smoking rates and HIV prevention, and is associated with increased risk of experiencing sexual and other forms of gender -based violence.

''Access to science and technology empowers women to take control of their health and enables women and girls to participate in specialized training and educational programmes.

''With such training, women and girls benefit from innovative health campaigns often disseminated through online or mobile phone technology. If we are going to be innovative with health strategies, we must make sure that women and girls are not left behind because they do not know how to use them or do not have access to them,'' Dr. Chan added.

She also noted that involving women in health research and technology development ensures that medical advances do not jeopardize their health and ensures equal benefits from these advances, saying: ''This requires women's informed participation in clinical trials, as well as data from all health research disaggregated by sex, at the very least.''
-0- PANA PR/SEG 7March2011