33. A wide range of statistics from European and international sources have been assembled for this document, but many gaps remain in the coverage of important topics regarding women’s health, including inter alia, migration, violence against women, housing, education, mobility and nutrition. It is hoped that this document will act as a guide for stimulating debate and further research that takes account of both gender differences and the specific situations of men and women, as well as comparisons over time and comparisons between countries.

34. Health and social care policy-makers and planners have traditionally seen women primarily in the context of their reproductive role. As a result, policies for women’s health have largely been restricted to expanding and improving maternal and child health systems. As women are important in relation to all aspects of society, there needs to be a major shift in direction to take account of the health needs of other women, especially mid-life and elderly women, in conjunction with population change and economic and social development.

35. The 1997 Human Development Report from the UN Development Programme concluded that no society treats its women as well as its men. The success of health policy initiatives is strongly influenced by the political, social and cultural context within which a healthcare system operates. Yet, the health problems of mid-life and older women, often aggravated by their relative social disadvantage, are especially pressing. Many studies are now increasingly sensitive to gender, but it is worthwhile to note that the WHO has predicted that women could be some 20 years behind men in getting answers to some important questions about their health.

36. The policy challenges will be to increase women’s access to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, as well as information and related services throughout their lives. It appears that although women continue to live long lives and perceive their general health to be good, significant disability because of chronic illnesses continues to be experienced. Although women are generally living longer, their last few years may be characterised by disability, chronic illness, poverty, loneliness and alienation. Any future provision of healthcare for older women needs to take these factors into consideration.

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