Shhh...

From a young age, I have always wanted equality. It never mattered to me what someone’s gender, sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious disposition, or socio-economic status was, what mattered was whether they were a nice person or not. Most of the categories I listed above are beyond people’s control, but the response to all of them from others is a choice.

Differential Treatment

I have had instances where my race has had me be treated differently from others. I have been extremely blessed that, to my knowledge, those instances have been rare, but I have remembered them. However, I am also aware that sometimes, I will be treated differently/preferentially to women because I am a man – male privilege. It isn’t fair, it is sexism, rooted in patriarchy, and it shouldn’t happen. Every single one of us was born to a woman, yet women are treated discriminately in society, whether it is at home or in the workplace. Shockingly, this is also the case in healthcare.

Healthcare Biases Against Women and For Men

However, despite our progress towards a more equal society, sexism and other forms of bigotry persist, rooted in culture, religion, political leanings, or simply a lack of education. Have you ever wondered how many women a man could impregnate in a year? Conservatively, if a man had sex with a different woman each day, he could impregnate 365 women in a year! Have you also wondered about the converse – how many successful pregnancies a woman can have in a year? Generally, 1, being liberal, 2. Statistically, if you are looking at the probabilities of impregnating vs being impregnated, you would want to control the one with the higher proportion, right? So, why is pharmaceutical birth control impressed upon women who can only successfully fall pregnant twice in a year vs men who can potentially impregnate hundreds of women in a year? Women not only have their own hormones to deal with regarding menstruation but also have the added burden of more hormones in their system via the contraceptive pill. As we have previously discussed, these come with their own side effects and health concerns. The contraceptive pill for men has been developed, but the uptake has been slow, and the sexist media wheels turn to portray men as unreliable to take the pill vs women, and that it could impact sperm count – last time I checked, women have a finite number of eggs.

On a side note, whilst we are on this subject, society also expects women to be responsible to oversee their own contraception, whether it is via the pill or condoms. Again, surely it is also the man’s responsibility?

Women’s Health Initiatives

A consequence of a lack of research into women’s health is a lack of understanding, leading to women’s issues not being understood, women not being a priority from a policy-making perspective, and women’s complaints about their health being brushed aside. “Women of child-bearing age” are usually excluded from early clinical trials. Part of that may be because of the thalidomide scandal in the 1960s, where expectant mothers have prescribed it for morning sickness but, with tragic consequences with babies being born with limb deformities. As part of the women’s movement in the 1970s, women’s health took a forward step with more women being involved in not only designing clinical trials but also participating in them. In the 1980s, there was strong advocacy to combat male bias in clinical research, and in the 1990s, various initiatives were implemented to include women in health research. However, the expected progression has failed to materialise.

A More Inclusive Approach

I have the privilege of being associated with some incredible women, from my mother to my nieces, to my talented team of (currently!) 12 medical writers at Bham Pharma. I live and work with women, and I do not see any reason for discrimination, in fact, I see every reason for their recognition and elevation to the level where they are treated equally as men. Both men and women have their strengths and shortcomings, but when we work together, we achieve something bigger. Personally, I would like to start with more women in healthcare making decisions about women that impact women, which would inform clinical trial design and treatment efficacy and safety for women. With our women’s health focus, we have had meetings about projects with clients developing medicines for women’s health-related issues, and the only women on the calls have been our medical writers. Of course, jobs must be performed by the most qualified people, but I cannot ignore the impact qualified women would have, not only on drug development but other aspects of strategy, from clinical trial design to marketing. I am pretty relaxed about being examined by female healthcare professionals for any male-specific health issues I may have, but I know many men would want another man for that job. This obviously also applies to women, but surely you want those impacted the most by something to be part of the decision-making process? Being qualified for a job does not always mean one is right for the job. Something to ponder over!

Education is Key

In our series of Women’s Health Blogs, my team of incredible women have discussed in detail the challenges women face, not only because of their diseases and conditions, but also in how they are treated, and the type and extent of support they receive. Right from the origins of treatment development, there is a gender bias. As mentioned earlier, many clinical trials are set up to initially exclude women, and the results of these trials are then extrapolated to include women, despite women having very different biology to men. Moreover, many clinical trials are designed by men, and although I do not believe that all men who design and develop clinical trials are sexist, there is an obvious unconscious gender bias somewhere. Efforts have been made to educate men, and indeed women, through training about their unconscious biases so that all decisions about trial design are made for the right reasons, without inadvertently negatively impacting women.

Women and Leadership

For women to get into more leadership positions that impact women’s health, more must be done to encourage women to enter research and develop pathways to allow women with leadership potential and skills to aspire to heights expected only of men. In some cases, boards have been set up with women to help ensure qualified women take up jobs that impact women. Perhaps, in bigger institutions, that might be a way forward to help ensure that women are involved in the healthcare of women.

Part of the Process

Feminism must exist because of patriarchy, sexism, and gender bias towards men. I don’t expect all these issues to be resolved in my lifetime, especially with regressive and conservative politics and social conditioning. However, I do believe with a healthy discourse about the role of women, in healthcare and society in general, and education highlighting the impact of women on women in healthcare, their absolute need to be a part of the process and ensuring various initiatives that have been set up to help women, are continued and enacted with the same level of focus, purpose, and energy, as which they were started. Only then will real, long-lasting, and tangible change be possible for women to be made a compulsory part of their own healthcare.

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