Gender disparity has significant impacts on women's health, both physical and mental. Gender inequality is prevalent in our society, and its effects on women's health clearly reflect it. The differences in social, economic, and cultural experiences of men and women significantly impact their healthcare access, health-seeking behaviours, and overall health.
One of the most significant impacts of gender disparity on women's health is limited access to healthcare. Due to several factors, such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of education. This results in lower levels of preventative care, such as vaccinations and screenings, which can lead to severe health issues in later years.
Moreover, women often face discrimination within the healthcare system itself. Women may be subjected to disrespectful treatment, lack of privacy, and inappropriate medical procedures. These experiences can discourage women from seeking healthcare when needed, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
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What Is Gender Discrimination
While talking to OnlyMyHealth, Dr J. Mayurnath Reddy, Consultant Psychiatrist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, said, "Gender discrimination is defined as any action that excludes or disadvantages persons based on their gender. It involves both intentional and inadvertent unfairness. Gender discrimination is fueled by sexism and prejudice based on gender. Sexism mostly devalues women and femininity while elevating masculinity. It can occur in both person-to-person and institutional relationships."
An Unsolicited Hierarchy
Gender discrimination against women starts from an early age. Dr Sakshi Mehrotra, Counselling Psychologist and NLP Practitioner, Mindlogs Psychological Services, stated, "Gender inequalities lead a girl child to believe in the hierarchy as an outcome of being a boy or a girl. It doesn't matter if you are intelligent, responsible, and caring, your opinion is not important because you are a female. These things are also reflected in our day-to-day spoken phrases like 'let the men decide', almost taking away the decision-making authority from women."
It contributes to the impression that women are less desirable, undervalued, and unwanted, which makes them less likely to seek medical care.
Unequal Access To Healthcare
Imagine a scenario where you are in pain but cannot ask for a remedy. This can be because you have no money since you are not financially independent, or you stay at a place where your illness is not taken seriously due to social or cultural norms because of your gender. Women are frequently compensated less than men for the same job, which restricts their access to resources like healthcare.
While talking to OnlyMyHealth, Dr Supriya Amey, Facility Director, Fortis Hospital Kalyan, said, "Women in many regions, particularly in rural areas, have limited access to healthcare, and they frequently face financial barriers to accessing healthcare, which can result in inadequate or delayed treatment for health problems."
To this, Dr Swati Shree, Consultant Infertility Specialist, Apollo Cradle & Children's Hospital, Marathahalli, said, "There are multiple barriers to access healthcare, including poverty, cultural and social norms, lack of education, sense of security, and geographic isolation. These barriers prevent women from seeking timely and appropriate healthcare, which impacts their health. Women often lack access to basic reproductive health services, such as family planning, prenatal care, and safe childbirth practices. This lack of access to reproductive healthcare services can lead to complications during pregnancy, childbirth, and in some cases, maternal mortality."
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Limited Access To Education
With education, you gain the power to make informed decisions, overcome obstacles, and utilise your full potential. However, many girls have to leave their education at an early age. According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), around 129 million girls in the world are currently out of school.
On this issue, Dr Sakshi Mehrotra said, "Girls have to leave education because the brother needs to complete his education as he would be the breadwinner. A woman's biological vulnerability is why the family holds her back in the house to keep her 'safe' from the big bad world."
Dr Supriya Amey highlighted the consequences that come with this. She said, "Females with limited access to education often lack the necessary knowledge and skill to make decisions about their well-being. As a result, they may lack awareness of health hazards and postpone seeking medical care."
Violence Against Women
Gender disparity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), increases the danger of gender-based violence. WHO further stated that 30% of women globally had been victims of physical or sexual abuse at some time in their lives. The percentage is even higher for transgenders, sex workers, homeless people, and people with current or past disabilities.
On this issue, Dr Supriya Amey said, "Women who experience domestic violence, sexual assault, or other forms of gender-based violence are more prone to suffer mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems, such as chronic pain and reproductive health issues."
Impact On Mental Health
According to a research from 2020, women who experienced gender discrimination in the previous 12 months scored higher than others on a depression screening tool.
Dr Sakshi Mehrotra said, "How I think gender disparity can impact mental health is that it keeps women constantly anxious about committing errors when they try to live a basic life (e.g., making small decisions like what to wear, whom to talk to, what career to choose, etc.). This is because behind them is a long history of socialisation, making them feel that their opinion doesn't matter."
While talking to OnlyMyHealth, Ms Jasmeen Kaur, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Member of the British Psychological Society and a Psychologist at Delhi Government School Health Clinics Project, stated that the parameters of gender biases come early in life and, as a result, a boy and girl child are treated differently. Girls are made to do more household chores, while boys are encouraged to work outside. Along with managing the household and gender-based roles, girls also have to manage their studies. The children cannot bear loads of responsibilities at such a young age, and thus it can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression in them.
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When stress and mental health issues surge, they affect the mind and the whole body. On this, Dr J. Mayurnath Reddy said, "Stress from any source can lead to a variety of chronic diseases, including chronic pain, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Sometimes, doctors dismiss symptoms and are more likely to view women's chronic pain as psychological, exaggerated, or even made up than men's. This can leave them without support or treatment, affecting their family, friends, and the wider community. Women are also more likely than males to attempt suicide, despite the fact that men are more likely to die by suicide."
This not only undermines women's confidence in seeking medical care but can also lead to serious health complications, if untreated. This is especially true for conditions that are traditionally associated with men, such as heart disease or certain cancers.
Biases In Research & Clinical Trials
Another impact of gender disparity on women's health is the gender gap in research and clinical trials. Women are often excluded from medical research studies, which can result in less knowledge about women's health conditions and less effective treatments.
Our societal culture has made us believe in a false hierarchy of men superior to women. For generations, this hierarchy has become a part of women's lives. So, irrespective of the fact they want to invest in self-care, there builds a feeling of guilt inside them that they are not doing enough for their families.
According to Dr Swati Shree, by addressing the structural, educational, and societal barriers that prevent women from accessing quality healthcare services, promoting gender equity in medical research and education, and increasing the representation of women in healthcare leadership and decision-making. We can strive for a more just and equitable healthcare system that meets the unique needs of women. Empowering women and promoting gender equality will have significant benefits for women's health and well-being and for society as a whole.
Dr J. Mayurnath Reddy said, "Anybody can fight gender discrimination by learning about its causes, manifestations, and impacts and then taking action to put an end to it."
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