Why Is a Gender Perspective Important in Healthcare?

Incorporating a gender perspective into healthcare allows professionals to adapt their decisions to the person they are dealing with by understanding that biology is not the only factor that influences illnesses.
Why Is a Gender Perspective Important in Healthcare?

Last update: 10 September, 2021

Employing a gender perspective in healthcare means understanding that there aren’t only biological differences between men and women, but also differences that arise from social and cultural factors. These influential factors are often disregarded in diagnosis and care, which causes gender inequalities.

Some noteworthy data from the Spanish Ministry of Health’s 2006 Health and Gender report can help us understand the importance of the gender perspective in healthcare.

The researchers studied a population between 45 and 65 years of age and observed the following:

  • Women suffer more chronic diseases than men.
  • Men suffer from more serious diseases that have a higher mortality rate.
  • Women live an average of 6.6 years longer than men.
  • In men, somatic symptoms without an organic cause are less frequent, as well as depressive states and anxiety.
  • Women take more psychotropic drugs than men and account for 75% of all users of sleeping pills or tranquilizers.

What is the gender perspective?

To understand what the gender perspective is all about, it’s important to first understand what the word gender refers to; it’s not just about sex. Sex refers only to the biological, anatomical and physiological differences between men and women.

Gender, on the other hand, refers to a system of social, symbolic and psychic relations that values women and everything considered feminine unfavorably in relation to men.

It’s a dynamic concept, constantly evolving and sensitive to historical context. The term recognizes that socially and culturally constructed differences go beyond biology. These are the origin of gender inequality in access to health care.

Society uses gender to organize and shape elements of common practices, norms, values and behaviors. Employing a gender-based approach begins by recognizing that such differences exist and taking an interest in them.

A woman discusses a scan with her doctor.
Women suffer from more chronic diseases than men, according to prevalence studies.

Why is a gender perspective important?

Employing a gender perspective allows professionals to adapt their decisions to the person they’re dealing with by understanding that biology is not the only factor that influences health.

In fact, by not taking it into account, there’s a risk of committing gender bias in healthcare and, as a result, not providing the treatment that the person needs. Thus the effectiveness of interventions depends on this comprehensive approach.

Among the most frequent biases are the following:

  • Androcentrism: Humans are equated with the masculine, meaning women’s different experiences are often invisible and those of men are considered universal.
  • Gender insensitivity: Cases in which professionals don’t consider the influence of sex and gender despite the context being significant due to the different effects these have on health.
  • Double standards: Cases in which gender is considered, but with a double standard or based on different criteria. The best known is usually women being considered hysterical, while men are described as passionate.

Why employ a gender perspective in healthcare?

The gender perspective aims to go beyond an analysis focused on sex to recognize the different health experiences that men, women, and other identities have, based on their gender and other factors such as social class, ethnicity, and age.

The employment of a gender perspective in healthcare makes it possible to understand how gender stereotypes and roles influence individuals’ quality of life, among other things. This explains, for example, why women live longer, but have poorer quality of life.

To understand the different characteristics of a disease in men and women

Due to their biological characteristics, women can suffer from breast cancer or ovarian pathology. In turn, different diseases have different morbidity rates in men and women due to different biological traits. It’s important to take into account that men and women are susceptible to the same factors in different ways.

Women are more vulnerable to environmental chemical factors, due to differences in the absorption and metabolism of their bodies. Thus, although both sexes may be exposed to the same conditions, women are more biologically vulnerable.

To recognize the influence of gender roles and identities

The ideals and pressures society places on us in order to feel included affect our quality of life. For example, with eating disorders in women, trying to conform to a perfect body ideal has high costs for their health.

In the case of men, gender roles can explain risky behaviors, such as driving at higher speeds or high alcohol consumption. Access to and control of resources, and different socialization, has an impact on care habits.

A gender perspective in healthcare: a woman's thin, bony back.
Eating disorders are a clear example of the influence of gender on quality of life.

Health isn’t a life goal, it’s a daily resource

This central idea of the World Health Organization (WHO) means that health should not be thought of as a distant goal to be achieved in the long term, but a right, a resource that we must have at our disposal on a daily basis.

Health personnel are the key to achieving this, which is why it’s necessary to change to new ways of researching and applying science, as well as adapting the old ways of attending to people who come to the doctor’s office.

Society must implement change, guaranteeing universal rights and access to quality healthcare for all. Education in equality has a very important role to play, together with the mainstreaming of the gender perspective in laws and public policies.

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  • García-Vega, Elena (2011). Acerca del género y la salud. Papeles del Psicólogo, 32(3),282-288.[fecha de Consulta 8 de Marzo de 2021]. ISSN: 0214-7823. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=778/77822236009
  • Guía para incorporar la perspectiva de Género en Salud de la Escuela Andaluza de Salud Pública.
  • Vall Llobet, Carme (2006). Mujeres invisibles para la medicina, Barcelona, Debolsillo.
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  • Informe Salud y Género 2006 -Las edades centrales de la vida- Ministerio de Sanidad, Madrid, España.