Nazneen Damji is the Senior Policy Advisor for Gender Equality, HIV, and Health at UN Women. With over 20 years of professional experience promoting women’s rights and gender equality, she oversees UN Women’s policy and programming efforts on gender equality dimensions of HIV and AIDS, as well as, women’s health, including and reproductive rights.
She brings particular expertise on the socio-economic impact of HIV and AIDS on households. She holds an MSc. in Economics Gender and Development from the London School of Economics. has exacerbated existing inequalities across all aspects of life for women and girls. Progress towards gender equality on most of the Sustainable Development Goals has been interrupted or is being reversed as a result of women and girls are facing acute hardships, including higher rates of poverty, increased care burdens, greater exposure to violence, and obstructed access to and reproductive health services.
Discriminatory laws and social norms also persist. And with few women directing policy responses at the national and local levels, such issues are not being sufficiently prioritized and resourced. Immediate and sustained action is needed to stop the derailing of hard-won gains in gender equality and women’s empowerment. The has put almost universal pressure on the gains in gender equality made since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint for advancing women’s rights. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for health and well-being.
Gender, independently and intersecting with other determinants of health, including socioeconomic status, disability, ethnicity, geography, age, legal identity and migration status, orientation, and gender identity, can influence access and coverage of essential health interventions, thereby directly affecting health outcomes. Gender relations are about social relations. They can determine hierarchies between groups based on norms and can contribute to unequal power relations. They operate across many dimensions of life and determine whether people’s needs are acknowledged, whether they have voice or control over their lives and health, and whether they can realize their rights.
As a power relation, gender influences: vulnerability to ill health, household decision-making and health-seeking behavior, access to and utilization of health services, the design and use of health products, commodities, and technology, the nature of the health labor force, the implications of health financing, what data is collected and how it is managed, and how health policies and programs are developed and implemented.
Conversely, there are numerous pathways by which greater gender equality and women’s empowerment can lead to improvements in health and quality of life for women and their families. Women with greater agency are more likely to have fewer children, more likely to access health services and have control over health resources, and less likely to suffer domestic violence. Their children are more likely to survive, receive better childcare at home and receive health care when they need it.
Improved health for women can also help to strengthen their own agency and empowerment. Healthy women and girls are more able to actively participate in society and take collective action to advance their own interests, such as demanding rights-based, gender-responsive health services. Enabling environments for gender equality are also linked to positive health and broader societal outcomes.
It is clear that gender equality and women’s empowerment are inextricably linked to positive health outcomes, thus it is necessary that existing gender biases in the social, cultural, institutional, legal, and economic structures are addressed. It is critical that women and girls are involved in the design and delivery of health services and are empowered to claim their rights to these services. Women’s and girls’ bodily autonomy and decision-making around their health are central to achieving gender equality. The ability of women to control what happens to their own bodies is associated with the roles they are able to play in society, whether as a member of the family, the workforce, or the government.
Women’s health is a fundamental right within which reproductive rights cannot be compartmentalized. The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their and individual agency, including and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. Only 55% of women aged 15 to 49 who are married or in a union make their own decisions about relations and the use of contraceptives and reproductive health services. This means almost half (45%) of women in that age group are not permitted to make their own SRHR decisions.
Supporting women and girls’ bodily integrity includes addressing various points when they need information, services, skills, and opportunities to make choices about their own health. Empowering women and girls’ right to make informed choices is one of the most effective pathways to improve health outcomes as well as fulfill women’s potential as agents of change. UN Women is an energetic advocate of ‘universal access to and reproductive health and rights and recognizes that women have the right to control and decide freely on matters concerning.
Through the efforts of the Generation Equality Forum, UN Women, with the Governments of France and Mexico, and in partnership with civil society, and youth, has launched a Global Acceleration Plan for an Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Reproductive Rights, co-created by a multi-stakeholder partnership with governments, civil society, youth-led organizations, international organizations, philanthropies and the private sector to deliver transformational progress through four concrete actions: 1) Expand Comprehensive Education; 2) Increase the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of comprehensive abortion and contraception services; 3) Increase SRHR Decision-Making & Bodily Autonomy; and 4) strengthen girls, women’s and feminist organizations and networks to promote and protect bodily autonomy and SRHR.
In commemoration of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, we interviewed Nazneen Damji, from UN Women, about the health challenges women face in 2021. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role within UN Women? Nazneen Damji is the Senior Policy Advisor for Gender Equality, HIV, and Health at UN Women. With over 20 years of professional experience promoting women’s rights and gender equality, she oversees UN Women’s policy and programming efforts on gender equality dimensions of HIV and AIDS, as well as, women’s health, including and reproductive rights.
She brings particular expertise on the socio-economic impact of HIV and AIDS on households. She holds an MSc. in Economics Gender and Development from the London School of Economics. The last year has impacted healthcare and the world in a way that no one was prepared for. What do you believe are some of the greatest challenges women face in 2021? has exacerbated existing inequalities across all aspects of life for women and girls. Progress towards gender equality on most of the Sustainable Development Goals has been interrupted or is being reversed as a result of women and girls are facing acute hardships, including higher rates of poverty, increased care burdens, greater exposure to violence, and obstructed access to and reproductive health services.