The data, reported in the Lancet Commission on Women and Health is the culmination of three years’ work and represents an important milestone in the consideration of some of the key issues affecting women and their role in society.
Huge economic contribution
The report also documents the vital role that women play in healthcare that goes unpaid. This includes contributions made by women and children to giving care in the home. An ageing population, living longer but experiencing chronic diseases, means a larger demand for care, much of which is traditionally provided by women and children.
Such informal care responsibilities, while enhancing the care provided to individuals and making significant savings in the formal care sector, can impact caregivers in a number of ways. As well as affecting their own health, it can also hinder their ability to take up educational, employment and social opportunities.
Valuing the input of unpaid labour is certainly not straightforward but the commission undertook detailed research to “value the invaluable”. They estimate that women’s unpaid contributions equate to 2.35% of global GDP, with a large variation around this depending on assumptions made about wage rates and other factors.
This worldwide picture is reflected in the UK, where the informal care sector is dominated by women, with similar effects on their health and employment options. Just in terms of the ageing population, the demand for unpaid care is substantial.
In England, about 1.4m older people with disabilities living in their own homes currently receive unpaid care. Plus there are predictions that the demand for this care will rise sharply and a growing ‘care gap’ will emerge in terms of the availability of unpaid carers.
As welfare cuts in both health and social care sectors in many European countries are implemented over the next few years, it is likely that these demands will only intensify.
The report also analyses the health status of women worldwide over the course of their lifetimes. It focuses on the shifting burden of disease and illustrates that while there have been important advances in priority areas such as maternal and reproductive health, there is still some way to go.
Photo credit: Health Extension Workers and women attending a Long Acting Family Planning Clinic at Health Post, Amhara, Ethiopia. The photo was taken by Nancy Durrell McKenna, award-winning photographer and film-maker and Founder-Director of SafeHands for Mothers.