Invest in women to accelerate progress

Published: 8 March 2024

Statement by Joy Phumaphi, ALMA Executive Secretary, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2024.

In 2024, significant gender disparities persist. For example, economically, women earn on average just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Women constitute only 29.2% of the Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, with representation in leadership positions within STEM and research and development at merely 12% and 31%, respectively, further emphasizing educational disparities. Politically, women occupy fewer than 25% of parliamentary seats globally, pointing to a significant gap in political representation. These statistics shed light on the complex challenges women confront, highlighting the critical need for comprehensive global efforts to address these disparities and promote gender equality.

Women are the backbone of our communities. Yet, they encounter systemic barriers that limit their potential. Health-wise, women face unequal access to healthcare, as evidenced by the approximately 303,000 women who die annually from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, they are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, with one in three women worldwide having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The disproportionate burden of disease, including malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), further exacerbates the challenges faced by women, especially in resource-limited settings.

The burden of malaria falls particularly on women and babies, exacerbating health, societal, and economic challenges. Expectant mothers and babies are at higher risk of malaria due to reduced immunity, leading to maternal mortality and stillbirth, premature delivery, low-birthweight and death of infants.  We must urgently increase access to tools such as Insecticide Treated Nets, Intermittent Preventive Treatment in pregnancy, seasonal malaria chemoprevention, vaccination of babies, case management, caring for sick children with malaria, as well as aggressive control of breeding sites. Collaborative efforts to bridge the gender gap in health can lead to a more inclusive and productive society. For instance, increasing the coverage of Intermittent Preventive Treatment of Malaria for Pregnant Women (IPTp3) to 90% of all pregnant women could prevent an additional 265,000 low birthweight infants, significantly reducing newborn mortality.

Women also suffer more severely from the impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases due to their vulnerable societal position. Women and young girls, due to traditional roles in water collection and household hygiene, face a higher risk of developing certain NTDs, such as schistosomiasis, due to exposure to contaminated water. Consequently, girls and women are more likely to forsake education or employment to care for afflicted family members, reflecting broader gender inequalities.

Country Scorecard Accountability and Action tools have consistently underscored the need to focus on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH), malaria and NTDs. These tools not only monitor progress but also highlight the inequities women face in accessing healthcare. By investing in women, we can disrupt the cycle of poverty and disease, propelling us toward a healthier, more equitable world. These scorecard tools, identify barriers, foster accountability, and enhance decision-making to drive impact.

This International Women’s Day emphasizes “Invest in Women to Accelerate Progress”. Realizing this ambition demands addressing persistent inequalities, calling for a stronger resolve from both men and women, as well as all stakeholders, to move towards a truly gender-equitable, diverse, and inclusive world. Achieving gender equality and enhancing women’s well-being in all aspects of life is crucial for fostering prosperous economies and a healthy planet.

Together, let us build a more inclusive world for women.