A couple of years ago I went to hear Germaine Greer speak in Manchester. I didn’t agree with some of the things she said, but one thing she said has stuck with me. She said it was great that we have found successful treatments for HIV and AIDS, but questioned whether we would have reached this point in ~30 years if it hadn’t been a male-dominated disease.
This got me thinking and I started to recognise how the health service, research (and sympathy from medical professions) can be skewed against women. This is demonstrated in numerous ways:
- Reproductive health – reports of women being told they need their husband’s agreement before they can be sterilised. Women seeking abortions being harassed on the street on the approach to family planning clinics
- Not taking seriously women’s pain – I have personal experience of being taken to A&E a couple of years ago with excruciating back pain, I was told to take paracetamol and get on with it. A male friend presented at hospital with the same symptoms, was sent for an MRI and given much better drugs that I was. Same health issue, same cause, different sex, different treatment/level of sympathy
- The fact that studying women’s health topics in any kind of detail is not mandatory in some medical schools and the number of GPs trained in recognising the menopause is very low
- It’s becoming better known that women can experience different symptoms to men for events such as heart attacks and illnesses such as heart disease, but are frequently dismissed by medical professionals as these symptoms are not taken seriously
- The Guardian reports that there is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, that into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. Women have been excluded from medical trials, so we have a health system designed by and for men
- More recently in the news, its been announced that women living with endometriosis are now “finally being believed” following BBC research – this is good, but also shocking that a debilitating condition that can impact on 1 in 10 women’s lives is only just being treated seriously. It takes an average of 7+ years to be diagnosed and even then, there is no cure, just treatment of the symptoms. I’m doubtful that a purely male disease that causes chronic pelvic pain, painful sex, bowel and bladder movements, fatigue and fertility issues would have been ignored for so long.
There is a shameful bias against women in medical training and knowledge, medical research and attitude towards women in pain with both gynaecological and non-gynaecological complaints. This needs to be addressed at all levels, including:
- A change in society attitudes which perceives women to be less tolerant of pain, and more likely to “make a fuss over nothing”
- Better legal protection of women seeking abortions and removal of patriarchal attitudes which can make it less likely for women to be sterilised
- A change in medical training, requiring healthcare professionals to have a better understanding of women’s health and how women may present differently to men for some conditions
- A step change in medical research to focus more on exclusively women’s healthcare issues and ensure that women are fully represented in clinical trials
It is criminal that women are being discriminated against so blatantly and disparately in modern medicine in 2020.