Good Health: Every Woman's Birthright

International Women’s Day (IWD) - a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future - is celebrated on 8 March each year. On this date, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements.

The first IWD was held in 1911 and this year is its special Centenary celebration.

Centenary theme The 2011 Centenary theme is ‘Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women’.

In some years, global themes have been honoured around the world - in others, organisations/groups have 'localised' their own themes as appropriate.

Good health the firm foundation - FIGO’s global support for women of the world

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics  (FIGO) - the only global organisation bringing together 124 gynecological and obstetrical societies - has a vision that women of the world achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and well-being throughout their lives. FIGO recognises that good health plays a critically important part in enabling women to excel throughout their lives in all areas - including those of education and training - and it strives to secure and promote the very best services in maternal, newborn and reproductive health, while improving the practice of gynecology and obstetrics. 

FIGO reaffirms its commitment to the recognition of International Women’s Day, especially in the light of ongoing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and new developments, including the adoption of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health by the Global Summit on MDGs (September 2010), and the official launch of UN Women (February 2011). The focus of MDG 3 - promoting gender equality and empowering women - is strongly supported by FIGO, while MDGs 4 and 5 - reducing child mortality and improving maternal health - address concerns of immense importance for FIGO within the area of women’s health, with emphasis on maternal and child health. 

The MDGs - eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges - aim to encourage improvements in the social and economic conditions of the world's poorest countries.  

Challenges to women’s health – some global statistics

Maternal and newborn health • Though some progress has recently been reported, maternal mortality still represents one of the greatest health disparities between rich and poor countries and between the rich and poor within countries. The risk of a woman dying in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 22, as compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions.(SOURCE: Postpartum Hemorrhage Prevention and Treatment)   

• The most common single cause of maternal death occurs from postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), from which one woman dies every seven minutes (SOURCE: The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9728, Pages 1762 - 1763, 22 May 2010 , Potts et al) 

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights

More generally, women across the world suffer substantially from infringements of their human rights through harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation  (FGM) and child marriage.  Other issues relating to their sexual and reproductive rights include sexual violence, especially sexual violence during armed conflict.

Female genital mutilation/cutting has been inflicted as a coming-of-age ritual on more than 130 million living girls and women, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. Two million girls are at risk every year, including many in immigrant communities in Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Child marriage forces girls in many countries into sexual relations before their bodies are mature, jeopardising their health and raising their risk for obstetric fistula, HIV infection, and dropping out of school.

Rape: One in five women worldwide will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

Sexual violence during armed conflict: Almost half of indictments by the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals have been on charges of rape or sexual assault. (SOURCE: UNFPA)   

FIGO’s global work with women’s health - alongside many valuable partner organisations - encompasses several vital areas, including maternal and newborn health; adolescent sexual and reproductive health; fistula; unsafe abortion; postpartum haemorrhage; ethical aspects of human reproduction and women’s health; oncology; reproductive medicine; and education and training.

Maternal and newborn health FIGO’s LOGIC Initiative (Leadership in Obstetrics and Gynecology for Impact and Change) works with FIGO member associations in low- and middle-resource countries in Asia and Africa, and over five years hopes to enable them to play a catalytic role in making positive changes in policy and practice to help improve maternal and newborn health services for under-served populations.

FIGO’s Saving Mothers and Newborns Initiative builds and sustains the capacity of ob/gyn and midwifery societies in developing countries to conduct essential projects relevant to the promotion of safe motherhood and the improvement of maternal health. 

Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health For many years, this area has been overlooked as a major component of the global burden of sexual ill-health. FIGO is currently working towards strengthening the capacity of its member associations to support ASRH interventions at the national level via a serious of global regional workshops attended by key global health professionals.  This complements FIGO’s wider objective of strengthening its capacity to support national societies and increasing their capacity to play a major role in advocacy, training, policy development and reproductive health programmes to benefit women all over the world.

Fistula FIGO produced a special global competency-based training manual aimed at fistula surgeons, which will enable them to help deliver quality care and expertise to the many women who suffer from this affliction.  Currently FIGO is establishing training centres in many African countries for the prevention and treatment of fistula.

Unsafe abortion FIGO is committed to helping to reduce the burden of unsafe abortion. Every year some 19 million women around the world undergo induced abortions in unsafe conditions - of these, 97 per cent take place in developing countries in Latin America, Africa and South Central Asia.  FIGO believes that obstetricians and gynecologists have a key role to play in helping to reduce the number of those affected. FIGO conducted a situation analysis on unsafe abortion in 46 countries to identify the causes and prevention of unsafe abortion, and to develop and implement policy to reduce maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion.

Postpartum Haemorrhage FIGO acts as a guiding organisation for advocacy among the medical community and other health professionals for the reduction of maternal mortality, and is now highlighting the importance of Misoprostol for the reduction of postpartum haemorrhage in low-resource settings. In January 2011 FIGO - in collaboration with the Egyptian Representative Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) - held three workshops on postpartum haemorrhage.  Four hundred and fifty physicians received hands-on training on the prevention and treatment of postpartum haemorrhage. FIGO will shortly be launching its project on the use of misoprostol for the prevention and management of postpartum haemorrhage in developing countries.

Reproductive Medicine The FIGO Committee for Reproductive Medicine was formally established in October 2009 at the time of the FIGO World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics in Cape Town, South Africa and, since then, has undertaken a wealth of activities designed to achieve its objectives of developing evidence-based, culturally sensitive, cost-effective policies and guidelines that could be accepted as standards for increasing access to quality reproductive medical care in all countries of the world.

Training and Education The FIGO Committee for Capacity Building in Education and Training held workshops on women’s health in a large number of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe during the year 2010.

The FIGO Committee for Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction and Women’s Health held a meeting in Cairo on 22-23 November 2010 to develop a bioethics curriculum in human reproduction and women’s health for the developing world.

The FIGO Committee for Reproductive Medicine conducted a hands-on training workshop on ‘A Basic and Advanced Clinical and Laboratory Training Course in ART for Developing Countries’ during the period 18-22 September 2010. Forty-two doctors and embryologists from eight developing countries participated in the workshop.

100 years of International Women’s Day: a timely reminder to promote optimal healthcare for women - all year, every year

On this special International Women’s Day Centenary, FIGO would like to encourage all efforts to raise the status of women and to advance its role in all issues related to women's health.  

As part of its global remit, FIGO’s specialist Committee for Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights works to emphasise the important role of health professionals, alone and in collaboration with others, in the respect, protection and implementation of human rights related to women's sexual and reproductive health; to increase social consciousness and awareness among members of the profession; and to encourage FIGO member societies to use existing international human rights to improve women’s reproductive and sexual health in their countries through collaboration, education and advocacy.

Good physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health is at the very foundation of a productive life. In 2011, it has never been more vital for every woman in the world to receive appropriate care, support and treatment in these crucial areas.

Useful links/resources http://www.unfpa.org/ http://www.endfistula.org/ http://www.ipas.org/ http://www.pphprevention.org/ http://www.thelancet.com/ http://www.internationalwomensday.com/ http://www.who.int/