". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Research Shows a Clear Roadmap to Optimal Women’s Health - so Why Are We Still Fighting about it?

February 18, 2024

Few realms of public policy are as politically charged as that of women’s health. That’s a problem. In fact, I’d go much further: It’s a tragedy. 

We’ve abandoned the wealth of evidence offered to us by science. We’ve abandoned women. We’ve become parochial and combative, altering the definition of “women’s health” until it is nearly unrecognizable. 

But scientific inquiry has shown us what optimal women’s health looks like, and what is necessary for its establishment. Healthy women embrace their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual qualities in roles as diverse as leading countries and mothering children. We have ample documentation of what makes her healthy. 

We know — intuitively, in many cases, but also through research-based exploration of the topic — that such health is the health of a person, a person who lives a complex and contiguous life; a person who is far more than the conditions or diseases that she experiences. She is unique and irreplaceable. The intrinsic dignity and value of every woman and human person must be defended at every life stage, from before birth until her last breath.

Yet women suffer and die under needlessly inadequate or non-existent medical care, all over the world, while global leaders play tug of war over controversial political agendas. This must end. 

Women deserve better. We owe more to the field of women’s health. 

One of the ways that we can take steps towards this is through a new public health resource, the Women’s Optimal Health Framework. This is a guideline intended to aid anyone hoping to better understand or better implement holistic, effective, research-based women’s health practices. 

The WOHF is just one discrete instance of what women’s health aid and advocacy ought to look like: Holistic, life-spanning and unapologetically pro-woman.

For far too long, we’ve taken a “disease-first” approach to global health. We try to address diseases like malaria, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, polio or conditions like malnutrition and maternal mortality by targeting specific causes or symptoms. Women are lost in this approach. Often other health needs are neglected, impacting the outcomes of their children. Moreover, these top-down, population-wide approaches promoted by international organizations are often difficult to implement without violating national sovereignty and the overall well-being of the women they are designed to help. 

 The reasonable alternative is to improve general healthcare and the circumstances of the individuals who suffer from these diseases. That is a much broader, more important and nuanced task than vaccine campaigns, high-level policy reform or generic health education. 

Optimal health involves physical health, certainly. But it also encompasses intellectual, social, mental and spiritual components. 

The WOHF systematically presents nine pillars to optimal health through a series of concept papers: Community Health Workers; Community-Based Interventions; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH); Families and Children in Crisis; Healthy Marriage and Family Relationships; Emotional and Mental Well-being; Spiritual Well-being; Child Health and Development; and Adolescent Reproductive and Relationship Health. 

These pillars of optimal health are achievable and, despite obfuscators’ efforts, rational and applicable across cultures and countries. Science and diligent practice have provided evidence-based interventions that are high-impact, low-cost, and effective in many settings. 

The hurdle lying between our present global state and optimal women’s health abroad is not the implementation of an ideological political agenda, but assembling, and then disseminating and implementing best practices. 

It’s time to return to caring about women. It’s time to return to caring about research. It’s time to equip every sovereign nation with a clear, effective, research-based framework for optimal women’s health.

Why? Because women have intrinsic value and deserve the best opportunity for health and thriving. Because women do not ever suffer or die without broader implications for the communities they live in. Women everywhere are mothers, daughters, wives, and indispensable leaders. 

Where one woman suffers, many suffer. But where just one woman truly thrives, many others do as well.

That’s why realizing optimal health is more than a simple moral duty. It’s in the best interest of the global community, and of every sovereign nation. 

Valerie Huber is the founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Health. She previously served as the U.S. Special Representative for Global Women’s Health.