Chapter 2: Agenda-setting in women’s health: critical analysis of a quarter-century of paradigm shifts in international and global health
In recent years a range of leading international health and development agencies have reasserted their commitment to addressing women’s health in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This renewed attention to maternal and child health (MCH) and family planning departs from the broader 1990s emphasis on reproductive health. It draws, instead, from prior MCH approaches entrenched in colonial exigencies and neocolonial population control strategies. This chapter analyses and contextualizes the trajectory of the ‘international women’s health agenda’ over the past quarter century. The authors begin by examining the key historical antecedents that gave rise to contemporary understandings of (international) women’s health. They then explore the social, political, and economic forces and players that have shaped the international women’s health agenda, from the 1994 Cairo/1995 Beijing conferences and the UN Millennium Project, to the Sustainable Development Goals. They demonstrate how a constellation of actors, including powerful states and certain ‘partner’ LMIC governments, international financial institutions, prominent private philanthropies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and mainstream women’s health advocacy groups have shaped dominant definitions of, and responses to, women’s health ‘problems’ in the Global South. The authors suggest that narrowly conceiving women’s health as MCH/family planning aligns with neoliberal development discourses and transnational interests that in various forms have long influenced international and global health policy. They conclude by supporting an alternative approach to building a post-2015 women’s health agenda that moves beyond its current institutionalized arrangements to forge coalitions with radical women’s advocacy groups and grass-roots social justice movements.
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