gender-disparitiesWomen and Health

In the Summer of 2010, the Harvard School of Public Health launched the Dean’s Flagship Women and Health Initiative (W&HI) to advance a unique agenda simultaneously focused on women’s health needs, and women’s critical roles as both formal and informal participants in healthcare systems (women and health). The Initiative draws on resources and expertise from across the Harvard School of Public Health and the broader Harvard community to develop interdisciplinary perspectives and innovative solutions to the challenges women face in the public health arena. The W&HI also brings together global partners including governments, foundations, private industry, multi-lateral agencies, non-governmental organizations, and committed individuals to develop and promote this broad-based agenda.

Women’s health in the global policy environment

The Women and Health Initiative’s research, education, communications, and other programs are rooted in the belief that healthier women mean stronger societies and investments in the health and empowerment of women are investments in social and economic development.

This is a time of great need in the women’s health arena, but also of unprecedented opportunity. More than ever before, the global development community has recognized the improvement of women’s health and the achievement of gender equality as critical priorities. In 2000, United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal Five (MDG 5) defined a global agenda for women’s reproductive health and rights with two principal targets to be achieved by 2015:

  • A 75% reduction in maternal mortality (from 1990 levels)
  • Universal access to reproductive and sexual health services

Since U.N. member states adopted the Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000, new attention and resources have been focused on these critical issues across the globe. In 2010, a landmark year, the global community committed to the UN Women’s and Children’s Global Strategy and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon established the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), a new agency exclusively dedicated to the advancement of women.


The Women and Health Initiative focuses on two areas:

1) Women’s health throughout the life cycle, with an emphasis on the most neglected and urgent issues, such as maternal mortality, unsafe abortion, adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, contraception, gender-based violence and chronic diseases.

2) Women in the health care system of which they are critical, yet under-recognized, pillars. The W&HI studies the roles, responsibilities and status of women at all levels of health systems—e.g., in the household, the community, the workforce, in academia, and as both formal and informal decision-makers and providers of care.

The W&HI’s ultimate goals are to address the unfinished agenda of women’s health and support women within health systems and in society at large through education, research, communication, and evidence-informed policy programs. Read more about the Women and Health Initiative, including Dean Frenk’s “It’s Time to Set a Women and Health Agenda.”