Gender Self-Care Practices

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, preventing complications, protecting children’s health, defending their rights, and identifying emergencies, particularly at the community and individual levels. Despite its proven potential, donors, advocates, policymakers, and practitioners often overlook self-care in favor 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).  

A woman sitting at the table eating broccoli.
Two men in a room with one of them smiling.

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 needs to be, however. Global male life expectancy is four years lower than females, 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 organization that brings together men’s health organizations 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