Gender Disparity in Medicine – Women’s Health and Advocacy

Gender bias is, unfortunately, a fundamental component of modern society. Sexism has been a societal issue for centuries upon centuries, infiltrating every aspect of private and public life and affecting the quality of life for millions of women in the process. Women’s treatment in medicine is no different.

Gender disparity is nothing new; indeed, patriarchal societal biases have formed the core tenets of many modern institutions, medicine rank and file amongst them. From historical medical studies conducted with male physiology in mind to the misogyny-fuelled invention of maladies like ‘hysteria’, the medical concerns of women have been under-prioritised for centuries. But what does that disparity look like today, and why does it matter?

Diagnostic Hurdles and Implicit Bias

The fundamental form of gender bias in medical treatment shows in diagnosis. Women find it disproportionately difficult to have their concerns heard by medical professionals and experience more barriers to medical care than men. 

This is particularly true for conditions that impact female anatomy, such as endometriosis – which is frequently misdiagnosed, or eludes diagnosis altogether. 

This implicit bias leads to increased incidences of inaccurate and dangerous healthcare; civil action may become a possibility for women as a result, even if not an ideal solution to any medical experience. The bias extends far beyond initial diagnosis, though, and into research and trials too.

Disparities in Research

One of the major reasons for which women’s concerns are easily dismissed in the GP’s office is the poor quality of research into women’s health and healthcare issues. Historical precedents exist via such fictitious conditions as hysteria, but more recent examples present in the hitherto dim knowledge of medical professionals on how autism presents in women – leading to a systemic underdiagnosis of a hugely impactful neurodivergence in half of the population. 

This also extends to physical manifestations of symptoms, and even the occurrence of pain; women’s pain is often overlooked in treatment, where men’s pain is treated seriously. 

Even the invention of medicines and treatments are impacted by biased research, with contraceptive pills having been linked to a series of dangerous side effects – which would have been caught, and the treatment discontinued, were the medicine also to be administered to men.

Sexism in Medicine

Unfortunately, the situation is not much better on the other side of the equation either; the same gender disparity appears in a less subtle form within the field of medicine itself, despite positive societal moves towards gender parity in other areas of modern life. 

The British Medical Association recently released a report outlining the prevailing spectre of sexism in medicine, where 91% of women doctors reported experiencing sexism at work.

Recognition is a crucial step in the process of rectifying the damage done, both to victims of bias in healthcare and within the medical community. As more studies and reports illuminate the failures of medicine to accommodate women, pressure continues to rise against establishment bodies – precipitating a fairer future for all.

This is an admirable goal to work towards, especially as we look to create gender equality across all areas of society.

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