Women's health in South Africa and particularly women living in peri-urban areas is being influenced by three major factors. These include the political transition that is occurring in the country, urbanization and the international interest in women's health. Changes in the delivery of health care to the population, and in particular to women are being planned. It is therefore important that data are available for the purpose of planning and evaluation of health services. This paper describes a household survey in which 661 women were interviewed. Socio-demographic patterns of women living in a rapidly urbanizing area were determined and related to health status, use of health services and knowledge of the services. Poverty appeared to be an overriding factor affecting the health of the population. One third of the women were living in unserviced shacks. There was a high rate of unemployment and those who were employed worked in low status jobs and earned very little. Rates of reported acute and chronic illness were lower than described elsewhere in similar household interview surveys. A third of the acute illnesses were due to respiratory disease. Reported rates of diabetes and hypertension were low indicating undiagnosed disease in the area. Being a member of an alliance household - a mixture of family, friends and lodgers - was the main predictor of acute illness. For chronic disease, age and increasing educational status were the main predictors. Knowledge of services apart from those for cervical cancer screening was good. The latter improved with increasing education, urbanization and being a member of an alliance household. As many of the women lived in unserviced areas and had little or no income the provision of infra-structural services and development programs are essential if their health is to be improved. The existing health services need to be developed to provide a comprehensive primary care service with special attention being paid to the health of women. The service should be close to their homes and be affordable.