Women were more stressed, angry and sad in 2021, global survey finds - here's how SA fared

Millions of women worldwide were in crisis in 2021, where their physical and mental health were suffering.
Millions of women worldwide were in crisis in 2021, where their physical and mental health were suffering.
Getty Images/Eva Blanco for EyeEm
  • A new global survey has revealed sobering findings on women's health worldwide in 2021.
  • Men and women in 122 countries and territories were asked about their physical and emotional health, among other factors.
  • Every country in the world saw a drop in scores regarding women's health.

The second year of the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on people’s health worldwide, but a new survey shows that women’s overall health took the hardest knock.

The survey, conducted by medical technology company, Hologic, investigated how well women's health needs were met in 2021. Out of 127 000 women and men in 122 countries and territories surveyed, the overall score for the Global Women's Health Index in 2021 was just 53 out of 100 - one point lower than in 2020. 

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South Africa recorded an index score of 55 out of 100 and ranked 55 out of 122 countries and territories.

“Women in 2021 were more stressed, worried, angry, and sad than they were in 2020 – or at any point in the past decade,” the report reads.

The survey, done in partnership with Gallup, showed that every country in the world - high-income and low-income alike - fell short when it came to women’s health and creating policies that support it. The authors of the report write:

Millions of women worldwide were in crisis. Too few were being tested for deadly diseases. Their emotional health was suffering. They couldn’t meet basic needs, and they didn’t feel safe.

Widening the gap

Each country’s score was based on women's responses to questions in five categories:

  • Preventative care: This referred to being tested for hypertension, cancer, diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases or infections in the past 12 months - South Africa ranked as one of the fastest-declining countries in 2021.
  • Emotional health: Respondents were asked how often they worry, are stressed, sad or angry.
  • Opinions about health and safety: Questions centred on the availability of quality healthcare and whether respondents felt safe walking alone at night in their city or area.
  • Basic needs: Respondents were asked whether they had sufficient money in the past 12 months to buy food and provide shelter for themselves and their families.
  • Individual health: Respondents were asked if they had any health problems that prevented them from doing things people their age normally do.

Here are some other significant findings of the survey:

  • Women’s ability to meet their basic needs, like affording food, fell, while men’s ability to do so didn’t change. 
  • In nearly 50 countries and territories, less than 10% of women reported being tested for cancer in the previous year.
  • Women reported being more stressed, worried, angry and sad in 2021 compared to 2020 - or at any point in the past decade.
  • The belief in the value of visiting a healthcare professional declined among women with elementary education or less.

The highest score was 70 points, with Taiwan in the top spot, followed by Latvia, Austria and Denmark.

Taiwan and Kazakhstan scored the highest on emotional health, where, unlike the rest of the world, which is getting more negative with each passing year, levels of stress, anger, worry and sadness have remained relatively low and stable in these two countries for more than a decade, notes the report.

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Afghanistan, Congo and Venezuela all scored fewer than 40 points overall, while the US took 23rd place, with 61 points out of 100.

The fastest-declining countries for emotional health included India, Bangladesh, Benin, Guinea and the UK.

Importantly, the divide between women in high-income and low-income countries grew even bigger than in 2020, the data shows.

What about South Africa?

Another sobering finding was that women felt less safe walking alone at night in 2021 than they did in 2020 (up from 32% to 37%). The report mentions:

More than one in three do not feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhoods, which translates into nearly 1 billion women worldwide who feel unsafe.

These percentages were even higher in a number of countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, which also have some of the world’s highest rates of female intentional homicide.

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In Venezuela, 81% of women said in 2021 that they do not feel safe walking alone at night, while in South Africa, 76% said they do not feel safe.

However, SA was also one of the fastest-Improving countries when it came to Individual Health in 2021.

Stephen MacMillan, CEO of Hologic, says: “Women’s health has taken a back seat to nearly everything else going on in the world. No matter what pandemics, wars or other crises roil our societies, we must commit ourselves to improving the health of women, because they form the backbone of our families, communities and societies.”

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