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Economic cost of neglecting women's health is huge

The interplay between gender equality/inequality and economic development may have received huge attention in literature over the years, but the fact which has often been ignored and overlooked is that a key aspect of gender inequality relates to health. Consider what various economic theories have to say in this regard.

Economic cost of neglecting women’s health is huge
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Economic cost of neglecting women’s health is huge

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The interplay between gender equality/inequality and economic development may have received huge attention in literature over the years, but the fact which has often been ignored and overlooked is that a key aspect of gender inequality relates to health. Consider what various economic theories have to say in this regard.

Healthy women are more able to participate productively in the labour market with direct consequences for effective labour supply and hence the level and growth of economic output. Female health thereby improves development prospects over the long run through direct intergenerational transmission of human capital. In families with healthier mothers, child labour tends to occur less and the educational attainment of children tends to be higher. Better female health may lower fertility and thus youth dependency, with a knock-on effect on female labour participation and educational investments.

Mind you that menstrual health and hygiene is one of the important aspects of female health. And a recent random survey by CRY in an urban slum in Ward 80 of Kolkata brings out stark truths. The objective was to assess the knowledge of girls aged 11-14 about menstrual health and hygiene, their attitude and behaviour towards this natural process and how they handle it, with the facilities and amenities available to them. The sample size was small, but the results are reflective of a large malignancy that's bound to create impediments in developmental work. About 82 per cent of the girls (respondents) were totally unprepared for their first menstruation, simply because they did not know anything about it. Their mothers didn't know too much either except that it is something to be hidden from society. They use cloth but don't wash and dry them in the open. They do not buy sanitary napkins, if at all, in front of anyone. The list is never- ending. What's disappointing is that a whopping 68 per cent of the girls believe this, not for once asking 'why'. Around 84 per cent say it is wrong to discuss periods in front of men. Nearly 34 per cent still think menstruation is a punishment for them and 60 per cent agree that it sometimes becomes hard to live with it. Over 90 per cent said that periods affect their ability to work and study freely, be it at home or in school. They feel weak because they eat less food on these days and consider it best to stay put in one corner of the room, wishing that this never happened to them again.

The findings of this survey are nothing to write home about. However, updated data from the NFHS in this regard makes for a positive read. Around 78 per cent of girls aged 15-19 and 77.2 per cent aged 20-24 use hygienic protection during menstruation. In West Bengal the figure stands at a high of 83.4 per cent. Nearly 96 per cent girls across the country (15-19 and 20-24) bathe regularly during their periods.

At the end of the day, one must remember that there are more economic consequences than one for countries that invest (or do not invest sufficiently) in female health within a unified growth model featuring health-related gender differences in productivity.

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