June 2022

The Health of Urban Women: Healthy Cities, Healthy Women

Over 3.3 billion people live in Urban areas (more than half the world’s population). It is increasingly evident that urban living has a distinctive negative impact of the health of women and girls. Women living in Urban areas are at greater risk for compromised health, despite being largely responsible for the health of their families. The ongoing urbanization of the world demands new strategies to address violence, disease, access to care, and many other issues that are affecting women.

I recently attended a conference that addressed these important issues regarding Urban Womens’ Health hosted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, the Penn Alumni Relations office, and Trustee’s Council of Penn Women. BlackRock Women’s Initiative Network sponsored the event which took place at the Grand Hyatt in NYC. There were approximately 400 people in attendance including Rosie Pope of Bravo’s Pregnant on Heels. Penn alum Andrea Mitchell, a lead political correspondent and veteran Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC made opening remarks.

The highlight of the event was when keynote luncheon speaker Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize Author, addressed the heady crowd. He spoke about oppression of women worldwide and personal experiences during his travels throughout 150 countries. He told harrowing stories about the sex trafficking in Cambodia, among other emotionally striking stories relating to women’s health issues, including maternal mortality rates in developing nations.  His latest best-selling book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”
is a must-read– an eye-opener that puts things in perspective.

Some of the key takeaways from the conference included a discussion about the epidemic of obesity in Urban women due to over-feeding of processed food, that leads to heart disease and diabetes, among other medical conditions. Also, the extensive watching of television and general inactivity that characterizes so much of our society today negatively impacts the health not only of women but of us all.

And more women are raising children as single parents today where the poverty rate is the highest among this demographic. Employment skills and connectivity to the workforce is critical, just as access to care and coverage, which typically follows education and consistency of work. Health and academic education of our girls is one of the most important factors that will help to promote healthier and happier lives women.

One of the panels discussed what New York City is doing to help enhance the health of those living within its MSA. I learned that the addition of bike lanes has increased riding by 28%. Other healthy approaches include taking the stairs whenever feasible, especially at the Apple Store in Soho where this is encouraged by the store’s design, to the skip stop elevator in Cooper Union. Did you know that there is a public park within 10 minutes walking distance of every citizen of New York City?

The overarching message of the day was how important it is to get involved and empower women early on, and to establish their leadership skills during youth. In order to improve the health of women, it is imperative to develop partnerships in the schools and churches and to connect with the community.

The Penn alumni, Penn Nursing, and the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women have spearheaded an effort to raise visibility of urban womens’ health and lifestyle needs. The organizations’ goal is to generate greater awareness of the issues that impact urban women, and to develop practical and innovative solutions to addressing their health and other challenges.

Penn Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis stated “Cities are our future and women’s health is at core of healthy cities.  Urbanization compromises women who are the caregivers, nurturers, educators and decision-makers of families and communities.  Women are uniquely affected by lack of access to care, violence, disease and many other urban issues.  Improving the health of urban women is a unique and powerful opportunity to make our cities healthier and safer for all.”

For more information and how you can get involved: