WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

World Health Organization (WHO): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

The primary mandate of the World Health Organization is Health for All, with a focus on vulnerable groups, including rural women, and with core values of social justice and equity as guiding principles. WHO has a strategic advantage in its close partnerships with Ministries of Health. Women's empowerment is not sustainable without access to the resources needed for attainment of optimal health.

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

WHO has strength and expertise in the empowerment of women and promotion of women's participation and leadership in the health sector (Gender Programme and Community Based Initiatives Programme), in addition to the provision of support to countries in the prevention of and response to gender-based violence. Promotion of pro-poor and cost-effective community based health interventions is another area of expertise, including strengthening countries' reproductive health services for remote, hard to reach rural areas.

WHO has expertise in the prevention of HIV as well as in expanding the access and uptake of HIV testing and counseling, and availability of treatment for rural women. WHO also strengthens communities to ensure quality drinking water, and safe use of wastewater in agriculture and aquaculture, of which rural women are direct beneficiaries.

Examples of success include Einguella-Djibouti, where following initiation of the Community Based Initiatives, the village social development projects and health and environmental services became completely self-sustained in two years. Women are targeted beneficiaries for social and income development in these programmes.

Also, in Balloki, Kasur, Punjab-Pakistan, women were empowered to mobilize maternal and child services in their villages, using one of their homes as the location of services, and with resources provided by local partners. The success of the MCH centre has extended to neighboring villages, whose women now access the centre for delivery and antenatal care services.

WHO and MDG 1

Strengthening health systems and promoting pro-poor and cost-effective community based health interventions. Capacity building in using standard growth assessment tools, surveillance monitoring of nutritional status, and strengthening delivery of essential nutrition actions across rural and urban settings.

WHO and MDG 3

Empowerment of women and promotion of women's participation and leadership in the health sector, in addition to support to countries in the prevention of and response to gender-based violence.

WHO and MDG 4

Support to countries in medical service outreach, appropriate home care and timely treatment of complications for newborns, as well as integrated management of childhood illness for all children under five years old.

WHO and MDG 5

Monitoring and evaluating the burden of maternal and newborn ill-health and its impact on socio-economic development. Supporting countries to strengthen maternal and reproductive health services, especially in remote hard to reach rural areas.

WHO and MDG 6

Focus on prevention as well as expanding the access and uptake of HIV testing and counseling, and availability of treatment.

WHO and MDG 7

Provide guidance, capacity strengthening and good practice models to countries on quality of drinking-water, and safe use of wastewater in agriculture and aquaculture, including small community water supply management. Safe drinking water and sanitation needs assessment and response for health facilities and vulnerable groups are conducted during emergencies and natural disasters.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

The 7th strategic objective of the WHO Medium Term Strategic Plan addresses the underlying social and economic determinants of health through policies and programmes that enhance health equity and integrate pro-poor, gender-responsive and human rights-based approaches. The programmes within the 7th strategic objective include gender, human rights, social determinants of health and community based initiatives. WHO incorporates a gender-based approach to public health, meaning that specific health vulnerabilities and risks of rural women and girls are identified and addressed in health service delivery. A human rights based approach to health is also used to advance the right to health in international law and international development processes and advocate for health-related human rights, including those for rural women and children. WHO also focuses on reducing intimate partner and sexual violence against women, through the health sector, of which rural women are targeted beneficiaries. Finally, WHO's core value of community participation and women's empowerment is reiterated through the Community Based Initiatives programme.

Key Tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

  1. Gender mainstreaming for health managers: a practical approach
    A 3 day training for health managers and stakeholders which focuses on gender as a determinant of health and the particular ways that gender inequality impedes positive health outcomes for women and girls. The training provides tools to mainstream gender across all health programs, with a focus on women's empowerment at the community level. Approximately 100 workshops have been held in over 20 countries.
  2. Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women
    Guidelines which provide an overview of effective and feasible prevention strategies and incorporates a life course approach. It is designed to guide programming and policy directions with women as primary beneficiaries. The guidelines can be used to inform policies and programming for rural women.
  3. Integrating gender into HIV/AIDS programmes in the health sector
    Tool to improve responsiveness to women's needs Handbook for programme planners and service providers to help them integrate gender in their work on HIV testing and counselling, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, HIV treatment and care and home-based care programmes. Women, including rural women, are direct beneficiaries.

Inter-agency Partnerships

WHO's partnerships with UN agencies focus on the promotion of health in national development processes. Key partnerships with impacts on rural development include the following. Specific terms of coordination vary among WHO HQ, regions and programmes.