Reproductive Health and Gender Equality: Method, Measurement, and Implications

By Guang-zhen Wang , Published by Ashgate , Hardback , 220 pages , ISBN: 978-0-7546-4869-7 , RRP $164.95. .

Reviewed by: Mridula Bandyopadhyay

Mother & Child Health Research, La Trobe University, Victoria

Wang, co-author of Women's Reproductive Rights in Developing Countries, also published by Ashgate in 1999, is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas – Pan American, and has been working in the area of women's reproductive health and human rights. Her current book Reproductive Health and Gender Equality: Method, Measurement, and Implications offers an important empirical study on women's reproductive health. The book presents an innovative framework for analysing women's reproductive health and its intersection with gender equality, women's human rights, and maternal-child care in the context of economic and political development. Through her analysis of data from 137 developing countries (or areas) Wang demonstrates that women's reproductive health is intricately linked to gender equality. The author emphasises the importance of a gender-equality approach in reducing current health inequalities, challenging the popular biomedical perspectives of health.

Wang uses quantitative analysis – in particular structural equation modelling – to test her proposed analytical framework/model to demonstrate the importance of gender equality and maternal-child care in predicting women's reproductive health in developing countries. She explores the link between gender-based power relations and reproductive health outcomes in an international context, and indicates economic development to be positively related to gender equality and maternal-child care. However, the linkage between women's human rights and reproductive health is not supported by the data she analysed from the 137 developing countries, thus raising the question of whether human rights and reproductive health are indeed linked, and if so to what degree and extent? She does not dwell on this question in this book. However, she only analysed data on ‘abortion right’ and ‘economic, political, and social rights’ (pages 62–63), which may not necessarily indicate women's human rights are related to their reproductive health, as in many countries these data are not routinely collected and women are still denied the right to equal pay, inheritance, education, and so on.

This book will be of interest to public health researchers, health care professionals, development leaders, academics, and students working in women's health issues, gender/women's studies and human rights. The book contributes to and broadens our understanding of the intricate linkages between the core of social justice for women and reproductive health. It underscores the empirical findings based on data from 137 developing countries that indeed a gender and development approach has a pivotal role to play in the promotion of women's reproductive health.

The book is readable, but I found it to be quite repetitive, especially in reference to the various international conferences and conventions on gender equality, women's rights, and women's reproductive health, human rights, in Chapter 1 and 2 (this is also presented in Appendix C & D). The listing of measurement of variables in Chapter 3 (pages 41–42) seems to be tedious and repetitive as the data is presented in table format in pages 43–48. The findings and analysis chapter is very informative, clearly indicating that both gender equality and maternal-child care are significant predictors for women's reproductive health. Chapter 5 provides data on regional variations in women's reproductive health indicators, and concludes that of all areas studied (from 137 developing countries), the situation of women in the Sub-Saharan Africa is still dismal, and this cannot be improved by simply promoting birth control or family planning measures, but can be best addressed by promoting economic development and gender-based equality.

Although there are quite a few ‘typos’ in the book, it is well-presented and easy to read.