Self-Care And Gender

Self-care is of equal and fundamental importance to men and women, but there are important differences of which all stakeholders should be aware. Approaches that consider self-care and gender issues together hold much promise.

As a means to improve global health, self-care has enormous potential when focusing on female, maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) targets. When promoted throughout the lifecycle and as an essential part of MNCH, self-care empowers women with the knowledge, skills and confidence to proactively maintain their health. Self-care also helps with healthy pregnancies, prevent complications, protect children’s health, defend their rights and identify emergencies, particularly at the community and individual levels. Despite its proven potential, donors, advocates, policy-makers and practitioners often overlook self-care in favour of clinical interventions and disease-specific, top-down approaches to MNCH.

MNCH self-care includes such life-saving activities as taking iron supplements during pregnancy, reacting appropriately to warning signs of obstetric emergencies, breastfeeding and treating diarrhea correctly at home. Self-care has the potential to significantly contribute to a world where every woman—no matter her means or status—is safe and healthy before, during and after childbirth. Yet, as a pathway to gains in global MNCH, self-care needs a shared vision amongst the many stakeholders in this dynamic field, and now is the time to elevate self-care to its rightful position within global, national and district-level policymakers. ISF is delighted to support the leading work of the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA). The WRA has made good use of ISF’s ‘Seven Pillars of Self-Care’ in their policy brief entitled “Self Care. A Cost Effective Solution for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health for All” (2016). See:

In the self-care field as elsewhere, men’s health has been generally overlooked. Globally, men’s health has improved significantly over the past 40 years in terms of life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. Average male life expectancy stood at 70 years in 2016. Many men do enough physical activity to benefit their health, do not smoke or drink alcohol, and want to take charge of their own health. Men’s health remains far poorer than it need be, however. Global male life expectancy is four years lower than female and the ‘sex gap’ is widening. There are also significant variations in men’s health outcomes between and within countries.

Improved men’s self-care practices would result in better health for men as well as for women and children. While better self-care would undoubtedly benefit men’s health, an analysis of men’s practices in respect of the ISF’s ‘Seven Pillars’ of self-care suggests that men’s knowledge and health literacy, mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency, diet, risk avoidance and personal hygiene standards are currently far from optimal. Men often do not make effective use of health services and products and, while they are generally more physically active than women, many are too sedentary. The barriers to improving men’s self-care include male gender norms, a lack of policy focus on men and health services that have been designed without men in mind. Moreover, neither men’s health nor self-care are strategic health priorities globally or nationally.

Global Action on Men’s Health is an organisation which brings together men’s health organisations in a global advocacy network. They have produced a report for World Health Day entitled “Who Self-Cares Wins: A global perspective on men and self-care”. CLICK HERE

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