This report describes the context of women’s health in developing countries by reporting on key indicators found in the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) of 46 countries in 5 regions around the world. An analysis of the context of women’s health explores the status of maternal health (since most women age 15-49 years are mothers in developing countries, key measures of women’s health are based on mothers) along with the social, behavioral, and environmental contexts that encompass the lives of women.
For this report, the status of women’s health is measured by the maternal mortality ratio, maternal nutritional status, and proportion of low birth weight babies born to women. Social context indicators include education, employment, marital status, and household headship experiences of women that influence women’s potential access to resources and information. The behavioral context of women’s health is composed of the decisions and actions that influence overall fertility, such as a woman’s age at first intercourse and first marriage, fertility-limiting behaviors, use of antenatal and delivery services, and awareness of preventive HIV/AIDS practices. The environmental context describes the external living conditions of women, including housing quality, amenities, access to water, and sanitation. The paper concludes that while behavior change policies and programs focusing on the individual are important to improve the health of women, efforts at the social and environmental levels are also needed to effect improvements in women’s health.