6 Women’s Health Is a Community Issue
It is easy to name the direct causes of most of women’s health
problems. For example, we can say that STIs are caused by
different germs, poor nutrition comes from not eating enough
good food, and problems during pregnancy are often caused
by a lack of prenatal (before birth) care. But beneath these
direct causes are 2 root causes—poverty and the low status of
women—that contribute to many of women’s health problems.
Two out of three women around the world are poor. Women are not only
much more likely than men to be poor, but are most often among the poorest of
Millions of women are caught in a cycle of poverty that begins even before
they are born. Babies born to women who did not get enough to eat during
pregnancy are likely to be small at birth and to develop slowly. In poor families,
girls are less likely than their brothers to get enough to eat, causing their growth
to be further stunted. Girls are often given little or no education, so as women
they must work at unskilled jobs and receive less wages than men (even if they
do the same kind of work). At home, their daily work is unpaid. Exhaustion,
poor nutrition, and lack of good care during pregnancy place the woman and her
children at risk for poor health.
Poverty forces her to live under conditions that can cause many physical and
mental health problems. For example, poor women often:
• live in bad housing, with little or no sanitation or
• do not have enough
good food, and must
spend precious time and
energy looking for food
they can afford.
• are forced to accept
dangerous work, or to
work very long hours.
• cannot use medical care,
even if it is free, because they
cannot afford time off work or away from their families.
• are so busy struggling to survive that they have little time or energy to take
care of their own needs, to plan for a better future, or to learn new skills.
• are blamed for their poverty and made to feel less important than those with
Poverty often forces women into relationships in which they must depend on
men for survival. If a woman depends on a man for her—or her children’s—
support, she may have to do things to keep him happy that are dangerous to
her health. For example, she may allow him to be violent or to have unsafe sex
because she fears losing his economic support.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012