Valued, informed, and empowered women are key to advance global health

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Global health and cancer control need women’s social and economic contributions in health. Only when women are healthy, valued, compensated, counted, enabled, and empowered can women reach their full potential including their roles as health care providers. 

“Women’s strength, women’s industry, women’s wisdom are humankinds greatest untapped resource” – Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, 2011.

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HRH Princess Dina Mired – president-elect of UICC starting in 2018 – opened the session with her story about how she met Dr Bronwyn King, CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios, and learned about her mission to eliminate tobacco from investment portfolios across the globe. HRH Princess Mired understood immediately that investment in tobacco companies implied endorsement of the tobacco product itself and of the industry as a whole and action was obvious. 

It was time to end the lifeline of financing and divest from tobacco stock to save millions of lives affected by tobacco use and death. Some recent examples of success include the AXA Group divestment of tobacco industry equity holdings and corporate bonds – valued at approximately 1.8 billion euros – in early 2016, and the tobacco divestment of 35 Australian private pension funds.

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The session then followed with Dr Ana Langer of the Harvard School of Public Health and Director of the Women and Health Initiative and the Maternal Health Task Force. Dr Langer discussed her recently published report Women and Health: A key to sustainable development in the Lancet. Dr Langer overviewed some of the key messages of her report:

  • Women are the majority in the healthcare labour force and as home caregivers. Health systems and sustainable development need and depend on women’s contributions, so improving health allows women to reach their full potential. Women’s contribution as economic drivers is underappreciated. 
     
  • “It exceeds the total US and UK health budget, 2.9 times the Mexican economy, and 20% of the US economy. Each and every women contributes $1,200 to health annually.”
     
  • Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) affect women’s health along the life cycle. NCDs that were prominent among women in the last 25 years have now become the top five causes of death. The cycle needs to be broken. There is also stigma and discrimination over NCDs that must be addressed and treatment for NCDs varies by gender.
     
  • Poor women are facing ill health and inequities as a result of lack of access to healthcare and are especially susceptible to economic, socio-cultural, and geographical barriers to health care. For instance, conditions that affect women in pregnancy affect them in the future. Gestational diabetes mellitus increases risk of Type II diabetes by 60%.
     
  • Women in academia also have fewer opportunities for publications and the grants they receive are much smaller. The reasons are unknown but the system perpetuates a vicious cycle that leads to fewer women in leadership positions who could mentor new researchers.
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Leading global journalist Baria Alamuddin interviewed HRH Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, Vice President of Women’s Affairs at the General Sport Authority in Saudi Arabia and former CEO of Alfa Khair International. 

Princess Reema discussed her responsibilities associated with her post at the General Sports Authority – a governmental body solely focused on developing the Saudi sports and physical activity – to further the goals of national sports and physical fitness strategies in Saudi Arabia. Princess Reema shared her personal story about how she lost a dear friend to breast cancer and the need to do more. Her role to develop the sports industry includes a health and wellness and physical fitness component with an aim to reduce the burden on the health industry. Princess Reema wishes to transform the environment to one where physical activity is a matter of fact for all communities.

Princess Reema understands the growing burden of disease and she wants to increase economic opportunities for women to empower them, remove financial barriers, and improve women’s focus on health. Princess Reema acknowledged every human being’s right to access to health care.

“The mission and vision by 2030 is to have a vibrant and rich society, rich in community”, explains Princess Reema.

Princess Reema discussed ‘10KSA’ – a holistic health awareness-raising initiative with a 2015 focus on breast cancer. The awareness effort included a community event that brought together more than 10,000 women in the middle of December 2015 at a football stadium in Riyadh. The event went on to achieve a Guinness Book of World Record for organizing the World’s Largest Human Awareness Ribbon. 

Finally Princess Reema spoke of the role and importance of culture and religion as a point of reference and support. People bring their own unique cultures and is important to have a unifying voice to convince people to change their health behaviours such as better access to physical activity and their supporting environments.


Article contributed by Luis Caceres
Photos contributed by Luis Caceres and Elyse Lichtenthal