Women’s health in Nigeria and International Women’s Day 2023

Women’s health is an important issue in Nigeria, and International Women’s Day 2023 provides an opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for the improvement of women’s health in the country.

In Nigeria, women face a number of health challenges, including high rates of maternal mortality, inadequate access to reproductive health services, and a prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with an estimated 512 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. This is largely due to poor access to quality healthcare services and inadequate emergency obstetric care.

As we mark International Women’s Day 2023, it is important to reflect on the right to health and how it affects the lives of women in Nigeria. The theme for International Women’s Day is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme is aligned with the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) gender and inclusivity programme area which works on Sexual and Gender Based Violence engagements that tackles the root cause(s) of gender-based violence through law and policy advocacy.

The right to health is a fundamental human right recognized by international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is also enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution, which states that “every individual is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

Despite these legal protections, access to healthcare in Nigeria remains a challenge, particularly for women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality rates in Nigeria are among the highest in the world, with an estimated 512 deaths per 100,000 live births. In addition, women in Nigeria face significant barriers to accessing basic healthcare services, such as contraception, maternal and child health services, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Reproductive health services in Nigeria are also limited, with many women lacking access to family planning services and facing cultural barriers to accessing healthcare. FGM/C is also a prevalent practice in Nigeria, with an estimated 20 million women and girls having undergone the procedure. This practice can result in serious health consequences, including infections, infertility, and childbirth complications.

One major factor contributing to these challenges is the lack of investment in the healthcare system. Nigeria spends only a fraction of its national budget on healthcare, and much of that funding is focused on tertiary care rather than primary care, which is the foundation of a strong healthcare system. This means that many women in Nigeria cannot access even basic healthcare services, let alone the specialized care that may be necessary for complex health conditions.

Another factor is the prevalence of gender-based violence, which can have a significant impact on women’s health. Gender-based violence can lead to physical injuries, mental health problems, and a range of other health issues. It can also create barriers to accessing healthcare, as women may be afraid to seek medical attention or may be prevented from doing so by their abusers.

To address these challenges, Nigeria must invest in its healthcare system and prioritize primary care, especially for women. This includes increasing funding for maternal and child health services, improving access to contraception, and addressing the root causes of gender-based violence. It also means promoting gender equality and empowering women to take control of their own health.

Efforts are needed to increase access to quality healthcare services, including reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care. Cultural and societal norms that perpetuate harmful practices such as FGM/C must also be addressed through education and community outreach programs.

On International Women’s Day 2023, it is important to recognize the importance of women’s health in Nigeria and to advocate for the necessary changes to improve health outcomes for women in the country. This includes supporting policies and programs that increase access to healthcare services and promote gender equality, as well as advocating for the elimination of harmful cultural practices that put women’s health at risk.

As we mark International Women’s Day 2023, let us remember that the right to health is a fundamental human right that must be protected and upheld. We must work together to ensure that every woman in Nigeria has access to the healthcare services she needs to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

Okeke writes from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Nigeria

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