Health, as well as gender, are not solely biologically determined, but also socially constructed. Indeed, the existing healthcare system has created a gender bias that disfavors women, both in terms of women working in the healthcare sector, and consequently in terms of women’s access to adequate healthcare.
Women face health inequities because of their specific needs regarding sexual and reproductive health care that fail to be appropriately addressed. Around the world, 830 women die everyday while giving birth or from complications during pregnancy, most of these deaths occur in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America (based on 2015 data) (WHO). Despite technological innovations in medicine, wealthier nations are the ones benefiting most while large gaps in access to healthcare for women in poorer countries remain (WHO). Even in more developed countries, women are underrepresented in healthcare leadership, impacting the adequacy of access and services that female patients receive.
When we think about health in a human rights framework, the system should value participation, empowerment and equality. But what happens in reality? Women are becoming more and more predominant in medical professions, but they are not given a proper place in the industry. Women who make it to the executive level will be placed in Human Resources, Legal and Marketing functions, and very few in Operations or Technology (Halle Tecco). A strategic shift in women’s participation in higher management positions would improve women’s status in the sector and give them the opportunity to address women’s health by bringing a gendered lens to new technologies and services. Supporting female leadership in healthcare and health science can build a bridge between gender stratified jobs and women’s access to proper healthcare.
There is one special area where there has been an important increase in gender parity: digital health startups. As of 2016, women represented nearly a quarter of the CEO’s of digital health companies (Halle Tecco), their goal is to make women the majority of their companies and to build a woman-friendly culture that is missing in other areas of the health sector. Female leadership in healthcare creates a vantage point to make women visible and bring light to the biggest causes of death in both developed and developing countries. Networking events in the sector have started to connect women leaders, sparking innovation in medical technology research to improve healthcare. Companies like Disruptive Women in Health Care, CSweetener and Rock Health Women are collaborating and encouraging women-led and women-centred startups (Halle Tecco).
Women can transform the healthcare system not only by making technological innovations more gender equal, but also by ensuring that women benefit from the scientific advances. Bringing more women (and health-tech entrepreneurs) to the industry will expand the gendered lens and tackle issues where women are especially impacted by improving and promoting a better use of technologies such as mammograms for the diagnosis of breast cancer, ultrasounds for healthy pregnancies, artificial intelligence for diagnosing or preventing cervical cancer, etc. (Maiya Moncino). Women truly have the potential to make strides in providing better access to health with a wider perspective, in both resourced and under-resourced areas.
Cathy Sebag. “Top 3- challenges facing global women’s health in 2019” Dec 17, 2018, https://www.mobileodt.com/blog/challenges-facing-global-womens-health/
Halle Tecco. “Women in healthcare 2017: how does our industry stack up?” 2017, https://rockhealth.com/reports/women-in-healthcare-2017-how-does-our-industry-stack-up/
Ivy Lynn Bourgeault. “Health care has its own barriers preventing women from reaching the top” June 14 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/evidencenetwork-ca/health-care-has-many-barriers-preventing-women-from-reaching-the-top_a_23434448/
Maiya Moncino. New, Affordable technology is improving women’s health access” September 11, 2018. https://www.cfr.org/blog/new-affordable-technology-improving-womens-health-access
WHO. World Health Organization.“Maternal and Reproductive Health” 2015. https://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/en/