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Women's health

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:

“Gender 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 risks of violence and sexual assault and face unique health challenges, such as menstrual difficulties, pregnancy and menopause.

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. 

Our work

  • We aim to support the health of the female nursing and midwifery workforce by providing guidance and practical resources.
  • 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.


Northern Ireland



Related to overview of women's health:

Professional lead for overview of women's health:

Women's health cards

This updated, easy to use, reference tool is for nurses and midwives working with women, including in gynaecology, sexual and reproductive health, in all health and social care settings across the UK.

Wandering Womb exhibition award

The Wandering Womb: women's health nursing past and present

The RCN’s Wandering Womb exhibition explores key health issues affecting women throughout history and demonstrates the leading role nursing staff have had in challenging common beliefs about women’s health. Explore the Wandering Womb exhibition.

Further resources

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Royal College of General Practitioners

FSRH - Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of the Obstetricians and Gynaecologists