The Commission on Women and Health was formed in 2012. A partnership between The Lancet, the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, the Commission aimed to review and generate evidence and develop a strategic framework for the women and health agenda. Women and health is a novel concept that refers to the multifaceted ways in which women and health interact, moving beyond a narrow focus on women’s health to address the roles of women as both users and providers of health care. Innovative approaches are needed to improve the health of women and girls and ensure that they are supported and valued in their multiple roles in society. Girls and women who reach their full potential make significant contributions to their own, their families’ and their communities’ health and wellbeing and are the key to sustainable development.

Goals of the Commission

The Commission on Women and Health aims to foster greater understanding of the biological and social factors that affect women’s health across the lifecycle, the part they play in global health systems, and the value that is given to their health-related work. The groundbreaking report resulting from the work of the Commission explores several major themes, including:

  • Recent global shifts in economics, society, and demography and how they affect women’s health and the empowerment of women and girls;
  • Efforts of national health systems to address women’s health needs across the lifecycle, from noncommunicable diseases to reproductive health;
  • The influence of sex and gender on access to quality health care, and the role of the health workforce support in alleviating such disparities;
    Women’s paid and unpaid contributions to the health care sector; and
  • The impact that is possible when the world is accountable to women and girls and ensures that they are valued, counted and compensated.

The Commission calls on academic institutions, development partners, governments, civil society and others to foster take action around the women and health agenda and position it as a health and development priority.

Key Messages of the Commission

The Commission developed several key messages summarizing the most important findings of its report:

  • Economic, environmental, social, political, and demographic transitions affect women’s health and their rights and roles in society, leading to a complex epidemiological transition and increased caregiving needs and demands
  • To ensure that women’s comprehensive health needs are met throughout life, health systems and societies should simultaneously and effectively address the unfinished reproductive health, nutrition, and infectious disease agendas and the emerging epidemic of chronic and non-communicable diseases
  • The response to non-communicable diseases so far is not commensurate with their burden among women, who are especially vulnerable because of biology, gender, and other social determinants
  • Poor women typically receive care from the most disenfranchised members of the health system, leading to ill health and perpetuation of inequities among population groups; for the health of all to be improved, this cycle needs to be broken
  • Women’s contributions in the health-care labor force and their crucial roles in the health care of families and communities are drivers of the wealth and health of nations, but are still underappreciated; on the basis of an analysis of 32 countries accounting for 52% of the world’s population, we estimated that the financial value of women’s contributions in the health system in 2010 was 2·35% of global gross domestic product (GDP) for unpaid work and 2.47% of GDP for paid work—the equivalent of US$3.052 trillion
  • Few gender-sensitive policies exist that enable women to integrate their social, biological, and occupational roles, function to their full capacity, and realize their fundamental human rights
  • Sustainable development needs women’s social, economic, and environmental contributions, which will increase when women are healthy, valued, enabled, and empowered to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives, including in their roles as providers of health care