Equality. A term that has been used heavily over the years, and perhaps even more so in today’s society. Equality is the right for people to be received in exactly the same way and enjoy the same rights and resources – regardless of their characteristics. Factors such as race, age, gender, disability and sexuality have been wrongly used against individuals in order to discriminate, leading to prominent action and discussion in society.
In more recent times the discussion surrounding gender equality has taken center stage, opening up various avenues of exploration regarding this socio-economic situation. Do women receive the same opportunities as men in the workplace? Is there a disproportionate gap in earnings between the two sexes? Gender equality tends to generate questions such as this.
Equality in health?
Ultimately, women and men have different needs and behaviours, but the bottom line is that they should be valued equally. One topic which perhaps doesn’t arise as much as it should in the context of equality is health. Generally speaking, we hear of ways in which our health can be improved, things we can do to maintain health etc. But, is the topic of health a very male-orientated one? Do women draw the short straw from a health perspective compared to their male counterparts? There is evidence to suggest this is the case.
The unwanted guinea pig
Women and men experience bodily sensations differently. The different biological aspects of the sexes ensures this. Medicine however doesn’t often take this into consideration.
In the Inquiring Minds podcast entitled The Science of Gender Medicine, Marek Glezerman (professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv) speaks of the differences between men and women in the realm of health and medicine. He states that clinical studies are male-dominated, with 75% of research being performed on men. This is mainly due to the absence of male hormonal changes, like the ones women experience from pregnancy and menstrual cycles, making testing easier. But is this productive? Of course not; 25% is not enough. Glezerman goes on to say that this is wrong, and who would argue with him.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital published a paper entitled Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait, and this explores gender health bias in greater detail. They strongly believe in a far more gender-specific approach to medicine which includes ‘adequate numbers of women’ used in trials. And, even when trials do include suitable numbers of women, they ‘often fail to analyse and report results by sex, significantly hampering their ability to test the safety and efficacy of discoveries’.
This is very alarming in the context of equality. What effect would a drug have on women, if it’s largely tested on men? Medical studies have to do more to incorporate women and correctly report the findings of the studies in order to create equal opportunity for medical breakthrough.
Why else do males seem to receive preferential medical treatment over women? This could be down to society’s often misplaced view of the female as highly emotional. But pain is pain, isn’t it? It is wrong for a woman to have her pain ignored or misdiagnosed just because of subconscious social beliefs.
Diane Hoffman and Anita Tarzian published a paper titled The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain, and they looked at biological and socialized gender differences between men and women. Men are stoic; women complain. Women can manage pain better than men, and in fact do not report pain as accurately as men. Are these good measurements of how to diagnose and treat physical issues? Hardly.
We can point to the fact that it takes an average of 7 and a half years to diagnose endometriosis, one of the most common gynecological conditions in the UK. This is a clear example of the disadvantages women face in the traditional medical system. And what about CPR? Research from Philadelphia has shown that 45% of men received bystander CPR in public compared to just 39% of women, with men exhibiting a 23% greater chance of survival after discharge.
These stats are damning. Hoffman and Tarzian’s beliefs continue to echo, and society’s view of the emotional state of women is impacting their right to efficient healthcare.
Health should be something at the forefront of gender equality. We hear so much about equal pay, equal opportunities at work – but what about the equal right to healthcare? Social stereotypes shouldn’t lead to serial misdiagnosis. The medical industry should do a whole lot more to include women in trials, and find suitable medical solutions for both sexes. Medical care at its core is about keeping people alive – something which should not be determined by gender.