Women’s health around the world is a crucial topic, and discussions are constantly circulating about how to improve it. Although progress has been made in much of the world and more women and girls have access to health education than ever before, there is still much work to be done, especially in many developing regions. There are many factors that contribute to women’s health, but none is more important than education.
The lack of education leads to a wide variety of problems throughout life, including lower income, poorer overall health, increased risk for disease and mental illness, a greater risk to fall victim to human trafficking, and many other problems. The sad truth is that many more females around the world are uneducated compared to men. The illiteracy rate for girls is nearly double what it is for boys, and every day, 60 to 70 million girls around the world aren’t in school. That lack of education translates to health education, as many girls and women around the world simply don’t know the best way to care for themselves and their children.
Progress in Education
Women’s health globally has improved in recent years, which can be tied in many regards to the increase in women’s education. Many women’s health issues, especially in developing countries, are tied to pregnancy and maternal care, which is an area that seems to be improving in many regions. One measure of women’s health is deaths caused by complications in pregnancy or childbirth, which declined more than 200,000 between 1990 and 2015, to a total of 303,000. Within the last decade, India has increased the number of women delivering babies in a healthcare facility from 39% to 75% by offering financial incentives to women who would otherwise choose to deliver their babies at home without a healthcare professional.
However, areas with poorer education programs tend to see slower change in health measurements. In the maternal death statistics, for example, 99% of deaths come from women in the developing world, particularly in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which also have some of the poorest female education levels in the world. Internationally, experts estimate that three-quarters of all infant deaths are avoidable if only the mothers were educated on pregnancy and infant health issues.
The Future of Education
A world of healthy women starts with the health education of young girls. As women are educated about prenatal and postnatal care and how to care for themselves and their babies, infant deaths and new mother deaths decrease and families become more stable. Likewise, by educating women of the dangers of HIV/AIDS, which is the leading cause of death of reproductive-aged women in poor countries, women and girls are more likely to use contraception to avoid disease and wait longer between pregnancies. Better-educated women are also more invested in the health of their children, leading to future generations with longer lifespans and fewer diseases.
One of the biggest challenges to increased education is the strain it puts on healthcare professionals, especially in areas of the world where they are already spread thin. Encouraging women to visit doctors during pregnancy and to deliver their babies in health clinics and hospitals means more nurses and doctors are required to meet the increased need. Many poorer states in India are already facing a shortage of more than 500,000 healthcare workers, which can lead to overwhelmed practitioners and discouraged patients. If a newly educated woman goes to a clinic but faces long wait times and stress, she is likely to go back to her old, less-healthy ways of care.
Another large challenge is simply the cost of widespread health education, including the cost of sending trained healthcare workers around the world and covering costs like their ACLS renewals. However, the cost of educating girls can turn into a valuable investment as they pass that education on to their friends and families. By spending the time and money to education a girl, an entire family across multiple generations can reap the rewards.
Global healthcare is an ongoing issue, but many of the problems can be solved or alleviated by an increased focus on educating girls and women to increase their own health and the health of their families for future generations.