Gender Impact on a Person’s Health and Wellbeing Essay
Gender Impact on a Person’s Health and Wellbeing
Healthcare has become an important issue for people across the globe. Most countries including the United States and the UK have identified the issue of health and wellbeing of people as the prime concern. It has been noticed that gender acts as a determinant for the better understanding of many areas of health and wellbeing of people. Existing health care policies in the world focus on women. They are often subjected to desertion, discrimination and abuse that result in the deterioration of their health condition. The social, environmental, economical, biological and medical factors associated with gender discrimination largely influence health and wellbeing of a person.
Financial security is a major social indicator that determines the health and wellbeing of a person. Financial security is essential for everyone because of the requirements and responsibilities in life. It includes home ownership, education and household income. Not surprisingly, financial security differs between men and women.
“The social context of women’s lives suggests that they tend to have less financial security then men. It has been attributed to reduced work force participation, poor access to education and additional responsibility of family and kids. Many women can be seen doing part-time and casual work because of these responsibilities” (Paolisso and Leslie, 1995, p. 5).
“Research studies say that there is a relationship between people’s socio-economic background and the quality of their health. The health of people from poor socio-economic backgrounds is worse than that of people from higher socio-economic backgrounds. This is evident in diseases and death rates” (Digby and John, 1998, p. 81).
Gender discrimination rate is much higher among people from lower socio-economic background. That badly affects women from this background. They often live in poor conditions and do not even get the basic amenities. They hardly get any access to proper health services and medical facilities.
Unequal wage plays an important role in the deterioration of women’s health. Despite the advances of women in many areas, women labourers earn a lower rate of pay than their male counterparts. The main reasons behind this pay inequality are differences between men and women’s qualifications and skill set, occupations and experience. Several poor families are managed by women. Not only they manage their home, but also they bring up their children with many difficulties. They face more problems because of low income and limited resources. Most of them take extra strain to earn more money. These issues badly affect their health conditions.
Dependence on Drugs
Effects of drug use and abuse are wide-ranging. While some drugs bring health benefits to certain people, some of these drugs can be abused. Illicit drug use is rampant in most parts of the world. “In Britain, the large-scale migration of Asian and Africans increased the drug use and abuse. Although both men and women use and abuse drugs differently, the effects of drugs are severe on women. Women’s use of illicit drugs is lower than that of men. However, health impact is greater for women” (Digby and John, 1998, p. 87).
Women’s drug use can be understood in the social context of their lives. Drug dependency is worse in women’s case because of their place in the society. “Women’s over-dependency on husbands and families generate some sort of confusion and stress in their mind. Their failed expectations of self-control and independence land them in drugs net. The social stigmas associated with women’s lives, depression, sexual abuse, poverty, pregnancy and lack of access to normal health care services make them dependent on drugs” (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2001, p. 89). Women suffering from drug abuse are less likely to receive support from their families and friends. They are affected both mentally and physically.
Mental Health ; Depression
Mental health and mental illness are determined by social, psychological and biological factors. People in socially disadvantageous positions are exposed to more adverse incidents than those having social advantages. That makes them vulnerable to mental distress. Even this area is not free of gender inequalities. “Many studies have indicated that women are more prone to the effects of reduced social support. They often turn to members of their social network for emotional support during difficult times. It is an irony that they are often subjected to atrocities and sexual harassment during the time of distress” (Bertram, 2003, p. 51). That further aggravates their conditions.
“Depression refers to a type of illness that has the characteristic of excessive and long-term mood disturbance. Depression is more prevalent health problem among women. It also leads to other psychological disorders such as anxiety. It has been noticed that women often commit suicide because of family problems and emotional disorder” (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2001, p. 53). Depression is largely responsible for the increasing suicide rate.
“A study examining gender differences in depression found that women were more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders” (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2001, p. 29). Gender discrimination in families, work place, inequalities in the distribution of wages, responsibilities and power relations contribute to women’s greater risk to depression. Not only women, but also lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender communities are prone to depression and mental disorders because of social discrimination.
Poverty and Gender Inequality
Improving the health status of the poor has been an important part of development policies over the years. However, the gender gap still exists. Gender gaps in health status and in health outcomes are also persistent. Most countries have acknowledged that the increasing gender inequality needs to be addressed in health sector.
“The health impact of gender inequality and poverty are visible in poor nutrition, overwork and hazardous work. Poverty and gender are also related to women’s proneness to mental illness, violence and other stigmas due to health problems” (Bertram, 2003, p. 64). However, the prevalence of violence against women and its health consequences indicate that only focusing on poverty will not help to reduce the gender barrier.
Health and well-being of an individual depends on health-seeking behaviour. The poor women and girls often do not have access to proper care or adequate treatment. “Gender inequalities in the community and within the workforce affect women all over the world. Inequality also increases women’s vulnerability to poverty and health hazards.” (Digby and John, 1998, p. 81).
Gender Inequality and HIV/AIDS
Gender inequality and poverty increase the risk of HIV among women. “According to recent findings, women are more vulnerable than men to the impact of HIV. The number of women living with HIV/AIDS is increasing faster than that of men living with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS cements gender inequality and put women and children at risk. According to the United Nations report released in 2002, almost 50 percent of those living with HIV and AIDS are women” (Bertram, 2003, p. 71). Sex workers in different parts of the world are worst affected by HIV/AIDS.
The relationship between HIV and gender is very complex. Concerns for short-term survival often force poor women engage in sexual activities that expose them to the long-term risk of illness through HIV infection. Gender inequality inflicts different experiences of poverty and health impacts on women. Male dominance and female submissiveness on sex and reproduction have been the major factors responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and men.
Gender-based Health Disadvantages
Gender-based disadvantages harm women’s reproductive health and limit their access to health services. In most communities, women hardly get authority to decide on sex and childbearing. They depend on their husbands and families for final decisions on these issues. “The International Human Rights Chapter has proclaimed that women as well men have the right to reproductive self-determination. They have every right to control their sexual and reproductive lives and make decisions without interference or coercion” (Gregory, 2003, p. 105). However, women are always deprived of their rights.
Poverty-reducing programmes usually do not reach women directly, as they have little command over productive resources and control over output. “Discrimination in the household and workplace put women in a disadvantageous position. Malnutrition, poor life expectancy and maternal mortality rates are much higher in communities where gender discrimination is prevalent. In most developing countries, girls do not receive proper education” (Rivesanet and Mahmood, 1997, p. 41).
Girls’ dropping out of schools is a common phenomenon in poor communities. Lack of proper education makes them dependent on others. They do not even understand the benefits of health services. They are often forced to work in unhygienic conditions. That badly affects their mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Role to Be Played by Health and Social Care Professionals
Besides the governments and the UN organisations, health and social workers need to play a much broader role in containing the gender discrimination and inequalities. The governments must deploy their health workers in campaigns that will offer women, sex workers, refugees and other marginalised groups equal access to health care. There is a desperate need to address the unique health needs of both men and women. Comprehensive health services must be available to all and gender barriers in health care should be removed.
There is no denying that gender discrimination often deprives women of their rights. A rights-based approach will help health care providers understand how social factors like gender inequality affect reproductive health. It will also give a broader response to women’s health problems that are beyond the reach of the health sector. Social workers and health care workers must concentrate on the following points in order to reduce gender discrimination and inequalities:
Advocating social action, policy reform and legal reform
Highlighting individual cases of human rights violations
Conducting human rights audits on a regular basis
Educating the communities about human rights and health benefits
Creating awareness about the rights of women and other discriminated groups in the society.
Health services would require radical changes to meet the needs of marginalised women in the society. Programmes associated with women empowerment may play the most important role in reducing the gender gaps. “Participation of women in community development programmes will enable them to get a high degree of self-confidence and self-reliance. It is the responsibility of social workers and health care professionals to persuade more women to participate in such programmes” (Gregory, 2003, p. 120).
Social workers and health care professionals should use their understanding of gender issues to address the problems associated with traditional gender relations and inequalities. Education and training should be made mandatory for all in order to achieve the goal of women empowerment. To improve the situation of women living with HIV/AIDS, social workers and health care professionals must provide them with financial and moral support. They must launch campaigns and services to lessen the victims’ social isolation.
Today, gender inequality has become the major concern for the world community, as it has wider impact on the health and wellbeing of people. Gender discrimination results in mental and physical disorder for women. If this issue is not addressed on a priority basis, the world may soon witness disastrous health hazards. Besides the governments, organisations, social workers and health care professionals, it is also the responsibility of common people to work together in order to reduce the gender inequality. Increasing awareness among people will definitely help to address all the problems associated with discrimination and gender inequality.
Bertram, M. 2003, Women and Mental Health: A Brief Global Analysis. International Journal of Language, Society and Culture, 12.
Digby, Anne and John Stewart 1998, Gender, Health and Welfare. Routledge, New York.
Gregory, Raymond F. 2003, Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. 2001, Gender Differences in Depression, Current Directions in Psychological Science, American Psychological Society, 173-176.
Paolisso, M. and Leslie, J. 1995, Meeting the changing health needs of women in developing countries, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 40, No. 1, Pergamon.
Rivesanet M. and Mahmood Yousefi 1997, Economic Dimensions of Gender Inequality: A Global Perspective, Greenwood, Westport, CT.