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Women’s health rights are foundational to achieving gender equality, promoting social justice and advancing global development. — 123rf

Women still face many barriers when it comes to healthcare

Women’s health rights are pivotal in today’s pursuit of equality, embodying the empowerment of women to take control of their well-being.

“My Health, My Right” is more than a slogan; it’s a call to action recognising the link between women’s health and their ability to lead fulfilling lives and drive global development. Despite diverse hurdles like socioeconomic disparities and cultural barriers, women must have access to healthcare, reproductive choices and mental well-being, free from coercion and discrimination.

Achieving women’s health rights requires a comprehensive strategy encompassing healthcare access, reproductive rights, gender-based violence prevention and mental health support. Let’s take a look at some of the concerns regarding women’s health rights and how we can overcome them.

Access to healthcare

Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, yet for many women worldwide, barriers hinder their ability to obtain necessary medical services. These obstacles are multifaceted, stemming from these factors:


Marginalised communities often face financial constraints, limiting their ability to afford healthcare services. Poverty, lack of employment opportunities and unequal distribution of resources exacerbate these challenges, leaving many women unable to access essential medical care.

Moreover, the intersectionality of gender with other marginalised identities, such as race, ethnicity or immigration status, further compounds these socioeconomic barriers.

Cultural and societal

Cultural and societal norms play a pivotal role in shaping women’s healthcare-seeking behaviour. Gender roles and cultural beliefs influence perceptions of health and illness, leading to stigma surrounding issues like reproductive health or mental illness.

In many societies, patriarchal norms prioritise men’s health needs, often neglecting or undermining women’s health concerns. Consequently, women may feel reluctant or ashamed to seek healthcare services, fearing judgment or ostracisation from their communities.


Legal and policy constraints further impede women’s access to healthcare. Restrictions on reproductive rights, including barriers to contraception or abortion services, infringe upon women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive choices.

Discriminatory laws and regulations disproportionately affect marginalised groups, such as women with disabilities or those from minority communities, limiting their access to essential healthcare services.

Moreover, inadequate legal protections against gender-based violence and discrimination perpetuate a cycle of health inequities for women. To address these challenges and promote equitable healthcare access for women, various strategies can be implemented:

Health education and awareness programmes

These play a crucial role in empowering women to take control of their health. By increasing health literacy and awareness, these programmes dispel myths and misconceptions, enabling women to make informed decisions about preventive care, reproductive health and disease management.

Education empowers women to recognise the importance of seeking healthcare and understanding the available resources, thus reducing barriers to accessing medical services.

Financial aid

Financial barriers are a significant impediment to healthcare access for many women. To address this issue, governments can implement financial assistance programmes and expand insurance coverage.

Government subsidies and tailored healthcare financing schemes can help alleviate the financial burden on women, ensuring equitable access to healthcare services.

Additionally, expanding eligibility for social welfare programmes and insurance coverage to target vulnerable populations will enable them to access necessary medical care without facing financial hardship.

Community outreach

Geographical barriers often limit women’s access to healthcare, particularly in rural or remote areas. To overcome this challenge, mobile healthcare units and community-based outreach programmes can be implemented.

These initiatives bring healthcare services directly to underserved populations, providing screenings, vaccinations and medical care where it is needed the most. By reaching women where they are, we can ensure that no one is left behind in accessing essential healthcare services.

Reproductive health

Reproductive health is integral to women’s overall well-being, encompassing physical, mental and social dimensions.

Access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services enables women to maintain healthy pregnancies, prevent and manage reproductive health disorders, and plan their families according to their preferences and circumstances.

Societal attitudes and cultural beliefs often stigmatise reproductive health issues, such as menstruation, contraception and abortion, deterring women from seeking necessary healthcare due to fear of judgment or discrimination.

Many women also encounter barriers accessing comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, including limited service availability, inadequate healthcare infrastructure and a shortage of trained providers. In certain regions, essential reproductive health services may be inaccessible, forcing women to travel long distances or resort to unsafe practices.

Promoting family planning education and services is vital for empowering women to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. Ensuring universal access to a variety of contraceptive methods and counselling tailored to women’s needs and preferences is crucial to enable women to exercise their reproductive rights.

This includes providing affordable or free contraception, eliminating legal and logistical barriers, and integrating family- planning services into primary healthcare.

Gender-based violence and health

Gender-based violence (GBV) poses grave threats to women’s physical, mental and reproductive health. Survivors face heightened risks of physical injuries, chronic health conditions, and sexual and reproductive health issues, including sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies.

GBV also inflicts severe psychological harm, such as trauma, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, the fear of violence curtails women’s mobility, limits access to healthcare and perpetuates intergenerational cycles of abuse.

Deep-seated gender norms and societal attitudes condone and normalise violence against women, hindering efforts to combat GBV. Cultural beliefs about gender roles and power dynamics often justify such violence, creating barriers to seeking help and holding perpetrators accountable.

Weak legal frameworks, inadequate law enforcement and limited access to justice exacerbate barriers to addressing GBV. Systems may fail to provide sufficient protection and support for survivors, leading to underreporting and impunity for perpetrators.

Discriminatory practices within law enforcement, judiciary and healthcare systems further marginalise survivors and impede their access to essential services.

Providing comprehensive support services such as crisis intervention, medical care, counselling, safe housing, legal assistance and economic empowerment programmes is crucial for addressing survivors’ immediate needs and facilitating their recovery.

Survivor-centred and trauma-informed support systems ensure personalised and holistic care, respecting survivors’ dignity and autonomy.

Strengthening legal frameworks by enacting laws that criminalise all forms of violence against women, establishing specialised courts and law enforcement units, and training justice sector professionals in gender-sensitive approaches, is essential for preventing and addressing GBV.

Effective implementation of laws, alongside robust monitoring and accountability mechanisms, ensures justice for survivors and deters future violence. Promoting gender equality and challenging harmful gender norms through education and awareness campaigns is crucial for preventing GBV.

These initiatives aim to change societal attitudes and behaviours by fostering respect for women’s rights, promoting healthy relationships, and challenging stereotypes and prejudices.

Engaging diverse stakeholders – including policymakers, media, religious leaders and community members – is vital for building collective action and creating a culture of zero tolerance for GBV.

Mental health

Mental health issues disproportionately affect women globally, with higher prevalence rates than men. Common conditions include depression, anxiety, eating disorders and PTSD.

Contributing factors include biological, social and economic inequalities; GBV; and reproductive health experiences. Intersectionality with race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability also exacerbates mental health disparities.

Stigma and discrimination often hinder women from seeking help for mental health issues. Cultural attitudes, societal expectations and gender norms marginalise women’s experiences.

Fear of judgment or social consequences leads to secrecy and reluctance to seek treatment, particularly among marginalised communities. Promoting literacy and awareness challenges stigma and encourages help-seeking behaviours through education on conditions, coping strategies and available resources.

Equitable access to services and support groups is vital. Expansion of infrastructure, provider training and culturally-competent care enables women to seek help and find peer support.

Integrating mental health services into primary care settings enhances accessibility and reduces stigma. Collaborative care models and routine screening promote early detection, intervention and prevention of mental health issues.

Vision for the future

Women’s health rights are foundational to achieving gender equality, promoting social justice and advancing global development. Upholding women’s health rights is not only a matter of justice and dignity, but also essential for realising women’s full potential and well-being.

Achieving this requires collective action and commitment from policymakers, healthcare providers, civil society organisations and communities. Our vision for the future is one where every woman has the power to make informed decisions about her health, free from discrimination, violence and barriers.

Together, let us work towards realising this vision and ensuring that every woman can access quality healthcare and exercise her health rights with dignity and respect.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 08 Apr 2024

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