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Analytical summary - Gender and women's health

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Despite recent improvements, child mortality in Ethiopia is still high. The neonatal and under-five mortality rate, responsible for 30% of annual deaths, is caused mainly by diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.[1] In addition, the mortality and disease burden from nutrition-related factors in children aged under 5 years is high. A total of 34.6% of children are born underweight while 50.7% are stunted. Stunting (low height-for-age) reflects the cumulative effects of undernutrition and infections since birth and even prior to birth.

As in other countries, the child mortality rate for females is lower than for males. The average probability of dying by 1 year of age is 60 per 1000 live births for females and 78 per 1000 live births for males. In addition, the under-five mortality rate is 100 per 1000 live births for females, compared with 117 per 1000 live births for males.[1]

Among harmful practices, female genital mutilation is widespread in Ethiopia, with more than half of girls aged between 15 and 19 years being circumcised. Female genital mutilation is strongly associated with negative reproductive health outcomes such as infection, obstructed labour, perineal tears, fistula and infertility. Between 60% and 80% of Ethiopian women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation.[2]

Abduction is a common practice in certain parts of Ethiopia. Young women in rural areas are twice as likely to be abducted compared with their urban counterparts. At a national level, 8% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 years have reported being abducted. Rape is a common occurrence among young women in both rural and urban areas. A study of adolescents in six periurban areas showed that 9% of sexually active adolescents had been raped.[2]

A study on street violence among girls between the ages of 10 and 24 years in Addis Ababa shows that 15% reported rape and 43% had been coerced into sex during their first sexual encounter. Polygamy is a widely accepted practice in southern part of Ethiopia and 5% of women in their teens and 8% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 years are married to men who have more than one wife. The practice of polygamy exposes young women to an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.[2]

Early marriage, limited use of contraceptives, and limited access to reproductive health information and education contribute to the high rate of unwanted adolescent pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancy is one of the major reproductive health challenges faced by adolescents in Ethiopia; 54% of pregnancies to girls under the age of 15 years are unwanted. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years are seven times more likely to be HIV positive than boys in the same age range. In addition to biological factors, young women are at a higher risk of HIV transmission as they have an earlier sexual début than their male peers, owing to marriage to much older spouses.[2]

The health status of women is significantly poor, influenced by the higher rate of illiteracy and poverty among women, which limits their access to health services, information and decision-making in health matters. The morbidity rate in women is 76% while the morbidity rate in men is 23%. Women’s health is classified into maternal health problems, which are directly related to childbearing complications such as prolonged labour, retained placenta, maternal malnutrition, etc., and nutritional problems, which are prominent in the country. A total of 25% of women between the age of 15 and 49 years with children aged under 3 years have a body mass index below 18.5. Female genital mutilation, rape and abduction are other health problems related to the low socioeconomic and cultural status of women.[3]

Although, HIV/AIDS awareness is universal, the proportion of women with knowledge of HIV prevention is only 43% compared with 64% in men. In 2010, there were 90 000 HIV-positive pregnant women and 14 000 HIV-positive births every year.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 World health statistics, 2010. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 National Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health Strategy 2007–2015. Addis Ababa,Government of Ethiopia, Ministry of Health, 2007
  3. Gender inequality and women’s empowerment in-depth analysis of the Ethiopian demographic and health survey 2005. Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Society of Population Studies, 2008
  4. Health Sector Development Program IV. Annual performance report. Addis Ababa, Government of Ethiopia, Ministry of Health, 2010