When it comes to women’s health, words do matter.

International Women’s Day. #ChoosetoChallenge: A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is designed to inspire us to think more deeply about what else we can do to #ChoosetoChallenge existing inequities related to women’s health across the world.

Recently at JSI, we have begun to take a fresh look at the words that we use in our day-to-day communications and are considering how certain words might not best represent our intentions to address equity issues critical to improving health outcomes for women and children.

Up until now, a significant amount of our international work related to women’s and children’s health has been affiliated with JSI’s Center for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH). As a matter of fact, we have been referring to our work in this way for many years in line with the sector’s lexicon, but there is a growing awareness that this terminology is outdated and does not best capture the reality of the way in which we approach our work nor the way people live their lives. Hence, we set out to find a new name for the Center that better reflects the comprehensive and integrated aspects of our work.

So we are leaving behind “RMNCH” and becoming the Center for Healthy Women, Children and Communities. Here’s why.

JSI fully recognizes that women’s health is much more than reproductive choices and time spent pregnant, delivering, breastfeeding and nurturing a child. A woman is more than her reproductive, sexual, maternal and child-bearing experiences. She is a young girl, she is an adolescent, she is a young woman, an older woman, she is a co-worker, she is a friend. She may or may not be a girlfriend, a wife, or a life partner. She may or may not wish to or cannot become a mother, she may or may not be a grandmother, she may or may not be transgender, and they may or may not be non-binary.

Indeed the health of a woman is multifaceted as is the health of a child. The word “child” itself is not yet universally defined and often depends on societal considerations when determining the age at which childhood ends. There is a general global agreement, however, that a child is a human between the ages of 0–18 years old. This means that child health programs need to include newborns, babies, toddlers, pre-school and school-aged children, and adolescents through most of their teen years. Adolescents and youth, regardless of gender, are considered children and their health needs should not be an afterthought or an add-on — and should be fully gender-inclusive. When addressing children’s health, agreeing on a common understanding of the meaning of the word “child” is a starting point to avoid unintentionally encouraging fragmentation and siloed approaches to caring for the youngest members within a community.

Intrinsically, the health of women and children is the responsibility of the community in which they live and that includes men, community leaders, and all others who impact women’s and children’s lives and their health outcomes. Within communities, individuals live in a wide variety of living units and the term “family” has moved beyond the traditional concept of the wife-husband-child(ren) structure that is often referenced. Regardless of their personal living units, women and children are members of a larger community in which members of all ages and genders have a direct influence on the health equity (or lack thereof) of its women and children.

Fortunately, there is increased recognition that healthcare approaches need to shift away from focusing solely on disease and illness to a more preventative approach that emphasizes overall wellness and staying healthy. This shift requires integration of health services as well as multisectoral solutions to address women’s and children’s health. This means considering the complete person, physically and psychologically, and including health-enhancing factors such as nutrition, education, clean water, and a clean environment into health programs.

To that end, JSI is “choosing to challenge” our own existing labels so that our words better reflect the comprehensive and integrated nature of our work. As such, JSI is proud to announce the renaming of our RMNCH Center to the Center for Healthy Women, Children and Communities. This name change for our Center is only a small step forward as we continue to slowly tear down the “statues” representing the old ways of thinking and begin to rebuild a more gender equal world. “A challenged world is an alert world” and JSI is committed to becoming more alert about the words we use in our own work and to challenge the previous ways in which we ourselves have often referred to women and their health needs because we certainly know that words do matter.

Written by Sandee Minovi, Director, Center for Healthy Women, Children & Communities

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JSI is a public health consulting firm that works to improve the health and well-being of underserved and vulnerable people and communities throughout the world

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JSI is a public health consulting firm that works to improve the health and well-being of underserved and vulnerable people and communities throughout the world