To build a healthy community that supports the needs of high-risk or at-risk communities, community health worker programs need to improve health and wellness for everyone. While we regularly talk about health and disease in generalized terms, women’s health requires a specific focus.
Health has gender differences. The CHWs in your program need to understand some basic differences between how to understand and support men vs. women.
If you’ve already identified core competency training for CHWs, then that’s the best place to start. But if you’re looking for a place to expand training with a focus on women’s health or maternal and child health programs, then read on. This article provides you with some of the top skills all CHWs, community health representatives, promotes and other health educators need to support women and the families that depend on them.
Top Skills Every CHW Needs for Women’s Health
- Stress Reduction
- System Navigation and Care Coordination
- Reproductive Health or Family Planning
- Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
- Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)
- Physical Fitness
Your CHWs have to be multi-faceted to support community members, women, and their families all at once.
Everyone experiences stress and skills in stress reduction will help a CHW support any client. They should also learn how stress affects women’s health differently.
While men women feel stress from the same sources, such as finance, health, and relationships, women often have additional stressors if they care for children or elderly relatives.
If women are exposed to stress for a long time, they have a higher chance of depression, anxiety, heart problems, menstrual problems, and more.
System Navigation and Care Coordination
CHWs need to double down on learning how to develop and improve care coordination and system navigation skills to support women in complex health environments. It’s especially important because some providers don’t feel comfortable dealing with women’s specific health issues.
Care coordination is an effective and significant part of high-quality and safe healthcare delivery. It is a critical skill that allows agencies to combine and share information among teams, organizations, and facilities whose services your client needs. This skill, paired with system navigation, is essential to coordinate care among many providers and agencies. It’s also a natural partner with building outreach skills.
Reproductive Health or Family Planning
Family planning is an important part of basic women’s health care that affects this and future generations. The term “family planning” refers to various goods and services designed to promote reproductive health and help people plan, space, and control how many children they wish to have. Family planning has well-documented benefits for mothers, babies, families, and communities. The ability to plan and space births can have lasting impacts on the social and economic well-being of women and their families.
Family planning prevents unintended pregnancy, reduces the transmission of STDs, and helps decrease infertility rates. Informed family planning can also help individuals get access to education and break the poverty cycle.
Additionally, planned pregnancies are healthier for mothers and babies. Plus, they reduce health care costs for everyone. Newborns from unintended pregnancies are more likely to be born with low birth weight and before they are due, which puts them at higher risk of infant mortality. Breastfeeding, which provides many benefits, including reducing childhood illnesses and chronic diseases, is also less likely among unplanned babies.
CHWs play an important role in helping people understand how important family planning is to their overall well-being. Focusing on this, your team can give someone the tools to make an informed decision and change a family’s legacy.
Access to Legal Abortion: Associated Risks and Statistics
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that ruled that the United States Constitution protects women’s decision to terminate a pregnancy.
What does this decision mean? In short, states can now dictate how, when, and under what circumstances people can access legal abortion, in many cases severely limiting the possibility to access it at all.
The move to remove the constitutional protection of abortion only increases the risks for low-income and at-risk populations, including women and pregnant people who are already disproportionately affected by sexual violence, pregnancy-related death, and other factors such as poverty.
It’s essential to remember that they’re controlling legal abortion provided by a healthcare professional — not all abortions. For centuries, women have turned to all sorts of clandestine methods to terminate pregnancies. The World Health Organization cites unsafe abortions as the cause of 13.2% of maternal deaths every year. And a study by Duke University goes further, predicting an increase in pregnancy-related deaths for all women, and Black women specifically, once Roe v. Wade is overturned.
When Is Abortion Medically Necessary?
While there’s a lot of discussion about a pregnant person’s reason to seek an abortion, the fact is that not only is this a personal choice that people and families can take based on factors like emotional skills, financial security, and the family’s well-being.
Terminating a pregnancy is sometimes necessary for medical reasons. Some of these reasons include:
- Preeclampsia — or high blood pressure directly related to pregnancy.
- Ectopic pregnancy — or a pregnancy that develops outside of the uterus (usually in the fallopian tubes).
- Newly diagnosed cancer that requires immediate treatment.
- Chorioamnionitis — an intrauterine infection that can follow the premature rupture of the amniotic sac.
- Placental abruption — or the placenta separating from the uterine lining.
- Nonviable pregnancy — a pregnancy in which the fetus has no chance of survival (often due to lethal abnormalities like anencephaly, or the under-development of the brain and skull).
Abortion Access by State
Over the past forty years, the number of legal abortion providers across the country has decreased by nearly half. An already alarming trend that’s likely to continue as states now have the legal right to ban abortions or severely limit them within their territory.
In fact, many states have drafted what are called “trigger laws” — laws that would depend on the state of Roe V. Wade to be applied, which means state legislatures can now move forward with these new guidelines. States with the most restrictive laws include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
In others, there will likely be decisions made in the coming weeks and months. Find a breakdown of each state’s abortion access by clicking here. Some of these states contemplate factors like incest and rape. But many have placed restrictions such as a ban on all abortions as soon as six weeks of pregnancy — at which point many people don’t even realize that they’re pregnant, and significantly earlier than the point of viability, which is the estimated time when a fetus could potentially survive on its own.
Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
Heart disease is very frequently associated with men. But women’s health is also affected by it: Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women about 1 in every 5 female deaths, says the CDC. It’s also the most common cause of death for men, but they don’t have the same symptoms of heart disease. Women are more likely than men to have symptoms like neck or jaw pain, nausea, or indigestion. They’re vaguer than severe chest pain but just as deadly. CHWs should know about these differences in how men and women experience heart conditions and also ways to avoid them—including stopping smoking and physical activity.
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)
IPV, sometimes called domestic violence, happens everywhere, but it’s difficult to see. An intimate partner is a boyfriend, girlfriend, sexual partner, spouse or other partners that someone is connected with. IPV goes through disorienting cycles of peacefulness and violence that can make people feel confused and ashamed. About a quarter of all women have experienced IPV, so it’s a serious issue that your CHWs have certainly encountered with their clients. Make sure they understand how to read signs and offer resources sensitively to help their female clients.
Americans sit too much and exercise too little, so CHWs who know how to get people up and moving are helping prevent a host of health problems. According to studies, moving around shows immediate benefits to women’s health, including reducing anxiety, improving blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
Women are at increased risk of osteoporosis. Regular exercise, especially strength conditioning, can help prevent bone loss.
CHWs who are trained in physical activity and active living are in a better position to make recommendations to people, no matter what their barriers are (physical, geographical, financial, etc.). They can also help patients and clients set and stick to goals and maintain an activity program that works.
Studies show that when a woman eats healthy, everyone in her household is more likely to eat healthy, according to the Office on Women’s Health. Skills on healthy heating will help CHWs with all their clients, but especially with women. The Office on Women’s Health states that women unique nutritional needs, including:
- Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
- Vitamins and minerals. Calcium, iron, and folic acid are particularly important for women.
- Reproductive health. Women have different nutritional needs during different stages of life, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding or after menopause.
- Health problems. Women are more likely to have some health problems related to nutrition, such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as iron-deficiency anemia.
- Metabolism. Women process some substances differently and burn fewer calories at rest and during exercise than men do.
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