GENDER INEQUALITIES IN HEALTH CARE

By Umair Jamal
 
Gender differences and inequalities have resulted in differences in health status and health care between men and women. In our society, women tend to have less access to health care than men. Socio-cultural factors often prevent women from accessing certain health care resources that are easily available to men. Women are also more prone to develop a variety of diseases and disorders including mental health problems, which are expensive to treat. According to World Health Organization, examples of such disorders can be anxiety, depression, or eating disorders.  Social factors such as violence and discrimination against women can have a negative effect on their health. In general, men have greater access to health care than women because men are more likely to have more resources, their disease and mental disorder rates are lower, and they face less violence and discrimination as compared to women. For women, exposure to more violence is associated with greater health problems. As an attempt to solve these issues, there are health agencies and organizations raising awareness of women’s health and are taking action to improving the quality of health for women. .
 
Throughout the world, on average, women are receiving less cash income than men, so men are more likely to afford healthcare . More women than men tend to have unpaid employment, economic dependency, and child-care responsibilities. They tend to have better education, better jobs, and are out at work all throughout the day so they partake less than women in child-care responsibility. 
 
In addition to these social factors, which are associated with less access to health care for women, another major factor is mental disorders. According to WHO, females have a higher prevalence than males in developing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or other mental health conditions. If these are left untreated, additional physical health problems may arise. Co-pays and deductibles can be highly expensive for these services, and costs add up which results as a problem not only for women without health insurance, but also for those who do have it. Many health insurance plans do not include mental health services, and it becomes difficult for women to seek the treatment they need. 
 
Women have a greater chance of heart attack. Women are less likely to survive a heart attack than men, and are more likely to have atypical symptoms from the attack. Those females who survive a heart attack have a higher rate of a second myocardial infarction as well as higher rates of congestive heart failures than men. Since women have a higher possibility of being diagnosed with such diseases, they are charged more for health insurance, and the cost may be to high for them to afford.. 
 
Violence and discrimination can also have negative health consequences for women. Violence against women has serious health consequences which can result in physical injuries and health problems related to mental health and HIV/AIDS,. Women who experience violence are more exposed to HIV/AIDS and STDs. Violence can also have negative outcomes to mental health. Women who fear violence may be prevented from learning or sharing their HIV status and from receiving treatment. 
 
In addition, violence and discrimination against female infants results in a high rate of infanticide and neglect. These infants face malnutrition and the illness is not addressed in young girls. There are higher rates of  malnutrition because of the low social status of women, and, it contributes to higher mortality rates for women and infants. With neglect, low status for women, as well as these negative health consequences, it would not be easy to obtain access to health care. It is becoming a serious problem that women are not having access, that major initiatives are needed in order to increase awareness on the health issues of women and solve the problem. 
 
The American Heart Association launched the “Go Red Campaign,” which had people to wear the color red and decorated national monuments in red which brought attention to women and heart disease. In addition to this campaign, a program in Florida, called “Take It To Heart,” was a collaboration between companies, organizations, and the media in order to convey the message of gender inequalities to health care. “Take It To Heart,” has attracted a lot of people. Large amounts of crowds have attended health fairs and conventions centered on women’s issues. In addition to these awareness campaigns, more can be done to improve health and health care access for women.
 
The National Council of Women’s Organizations believe that it is important to improve programs and policies to address female’s physical wellbeing throughout their life. The organization’s agenda is to eliminate    inequalities and discrimination that affects many women. In terms of women’s health, they support universally accessible health care in mental health, long-term care, and HIV/AIDS services.  
 
In order for women to utilize more health care services, women have to overcome barriers set by gender inequality. One  strategy is to reduce the cost of health care. Another strategy includes improving and expanding services. This is intended to make health services more available in the community to reach the poorest and most remote areas. Another strategy is to reduce inequality and empower women. Some of the ways to empower women is for them to receive education, employment, mobility, and social networks. Decreasing discrimination is an example of reducing inequality. 
 
 
 
 
 
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About the Author: Umair Jamal graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011 with a major in Public Health. His interests in Public Health include Global Health, Community Health, and Biostatistics. As an undergraduate, he was also a member of the International Health Committee in the CalUPHC. As of now, Umair is doing a post-bac at Berkeley in the Pre-Health professions program. He plans on pursuing medicine in the future.
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