Women’s health is an important part of the RCN’s portfolio of professional work, and these pages provide resources and general information to current and ongoing projects, as well as links to external resources to enhance understanding of some of the key issues facing women today.
The Women’s Health forum is committed to equality, diversity and inclusivity. We use the term women because it represents the majority of our work, and we absolutely acknowledge gender identity in the work that we do and understand this term may not be applicable to all our members. The Forum committee is currently working on a new clinical page focusing on Inclusion and Diversity in Women’s Health Care. When completed, a link will be included on this page.
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to health as being “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, and goes on to defend the need for a focus on women’s health:
“Being a man or a woman has a significant impact on health, as a result of both biological and gender-related differences. The health of women and girls is of particular concern because, in many societies, they are disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors. For example, women and girls face increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
Some of the sociocultural factors that prevent women and girls to benefit from quality health services and attaining the best possible level of health include:
- unequal power relationships between men and women
- social norms that decrease education and paid employment opportunities
- an exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles
- potential or actual experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence.
While poverty is an important barrier to positive health outcomes for both men and women, poverty tends to yield a higher burden on women and girls’ health due to, for example, feeding practices (malnutrition) and use of unsafe cooking fuels (COPD).” (WHO, 2018).
Key facts about girls and women
- Worldwide, women live an average four years longer than men.
- In 2011, women's life expectancy at birth was more than 80 years in 46 countries, but only 58 years in the WHO African Region.
- Girls are far more likely than boys to suffer sexual abuse.
- Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
- Almost all (99%) of the approximate 287 000 maternal deaths every year occur in developing countries.
- Globally, cardiovascular disease, often thought to be a "male" problem, is the number one killer of women.
- Breast cancer is the leading cancer killer among women aged 20–59 years worldwide (WHO, 2013).
Every woman will experience physiological changes throughout their life course, and this is often physiological, i.e. naturally occurring life events from periods to menopause and beyond. It can also be physical or mental health issues, or issues relating to sexual and reproductive health, including access to contraception, fertility and or pregnancy related physical or mental health issues. Some women are also more vulnerable to social economic challenges.
The provision of women’s health care services across the UK, is varied and stretches across the acute sector, primary care and the independent sector. Nurses are engaged at all levels of care from identification of conditions to specialist clinical nurse specialists who focus on an area of practice such as menopause, endometriosis or early pregnancy care.
- We focus on physical health, including conditions such as the menopause or endometriosis.
- We aim to enhance mental wellbeing, by engaging with organisations such as the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and the Woman’s Mental Health Task Force.
- We have created resources to support women who may be victims of modern slavery or domestic abuse, and safeguarding victims, whether they be women or men.
Women's health strategies in the UK
The health and wellbeing of women is critical to the wellbeing of society. There is growing evidence to support the knowledge that many women suffer poorer health outcomes because of their status in society. RCN supports the developments of policies which best support women’s healthcare. The following links are to recent government strategic development across the UK.
- Department of Health and Social Care: Women's Health Strategy for England 2022
- In England there are also related strategies in Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy 2021 to 2024 has now been published, see: Tackling violence against women and girls strategy.
- Whilst we await an update on the sexual health and reproductive health strategy, government guidance was released in 2022 with the publication of the Sexual and reproductive health and HIV.
- In England, maternity care, which is catered for in the DH SC Strategy for Maternity care across England, see: Transforming Maternity Services.
- Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA). Review of Strategy for Maternity Care in Northern Ireland, 2012-2018, (2017)
- Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (The ALLIANCE). Scotland's first women's health plan (2021)
- Scottish Government. Maternal and child health (2017)
- Welsh Government (2022). The Quality Statement for women and girls’ health
- NHS Wales (2023) Women's Health in Wales: A Discovery Report: Foundations for a Women’s Health Plan
- A woman’s health strategy is being lobbied.
- Welsh Government. Maternity services strategy (2019 to 2024)
Related to overview of women's health:
Professional lead for overview of women's health:
Women's health cards
An easy reference tool for nurses working in gynaecology, sexual and reproductive health.
Supported by the Association of Early Pregnancy Units, the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, the Wear White Again Hologic campaign and Verity The Polycystic Ovaries Self Help Group.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- Better for women report. Improving the health and wellbeing of girls and women
- Women’s Voices Involvement Panel. An online group of over 600 members of the public who want to use their experience of women’s health services to influence the work of the College and the wider women’s health sector.
- Centre for Women’s Global Health
Royal College of General Practitioners
- Women's health: e-learning module and patient podcast
- Women’s Health Library. This library provides educational resources and guidelines on women’s health that are relevant to GPs and other primary healthcare professionals.
FSRH - Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of the Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- FSRH Woman’s Library. The library is divided into four sections: maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, pre-menopause and peri/post menopause.