Empowering women to manage their own health

8 Mar 2021

We all want the power to invest in our wellbeing, to be able to take care of our emotional, physical and mental health. But without reliable information and appropriate tools, reasonable options and adequate support, it’s not always possible.

Self-care is changing the face of healthcare. It focuses on equipping and entrusting people to take a central role in their own health. For women, this can involve an important shift to being able to make decisions about their own care, when they may not have had this autonomy before.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has seen in our programmes how self-care can improve healthcare access and quality.

How can self-care can empower women and girls in crisis-affected communities achieve to enjoy healthier lives, just like women anywhere else in the world?

What is self-care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”

As a medical-humanitarian organisation, MSF is adopting self-care within a patient-centred approach, supporting people with the knowledge and skills to undertake self-care safely but retain access to formal health services when they need or wish.

Self-care includes:

self-management of medication, treatment, examination, injection and administration;
self-testing, ranging from sampling and screening to diagnosis, collection and monitoring; and
self-awareness, spanning self-help, self-education, self-regulation, self-efficacy and self-determination.

Self-care is not about people having to do all their own healthcare without support; it is about entrusting people to manage parts of their own healthcare if they choose to do so.

Simplified tests and treatments, point-of-care devices and mobile technology have all made self-care more possible in recent years – with great potential benefit for women and girls.

Why is self-care important for women?

Globally, many women still do not have access to essential healthcare, and struggle with managing sexual and reproductive health issues that may be stigmatised. Close to one in four women of reproductive age still has no access to modern contraception, to help her plan or limit her pregnancies. Just over half the people aged over 15 living with HIV around the world are women.

Unsafe abortion remains a major cause of death in pregnant women globally who are unable to access a safe alternative. The many social, economic, logistical and other barriers to accessing healthcare can be compounded by violence and discrimination. The situation is also aggravated in acute humanitarian crises.

Now, COVID-19 has amplified the health service discrepancies in these settings, worsening sexual and reproductive health outcomes. And while lockdowns have been instigated to keep us safe, they have also increased the danger for some women at home. In such circumstances, the obstacles can be so great that women will neither come nor ask for care, even if they need it.

Self-care is an opportunity to address this, as recognised by the WHO with its first ever self-care intervention guidelines in 2019, developed specifically for sexual and reproductive health.

Want to read more? Check out MSF international website: