Women’s health examines how the women’s health issues are created and shaped by societal interplay, personal behavior and biology. This is due to the fact that gender based health disparities are evident and even more pronounced in poor countries. Usually women lack basic health care and do face life threatening health issues. Some health issues are more prevalent or do affect only the women, these includes; maternal mortality, child marriage, cervical cancer, female genital mutilation and HIV/AIDS. In science, there’s the use of latest medical knowhow to offer the most latest and up-to-date information and care issues on women’s health. This offers a learning experience not only to women but also to men, their families and communities to understand women’s health (Nour, N. 2008).
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Gender disparities in treatment
The basic inequality between men and women in many of our society brings about the gender inequality in health; this affects the extent and quality of the health services available to the women. Although women are the major care givers and users, they are generally discriminated upon in accessing health care services and to the way they are treated by the health care system as they are usually under-represented in making decisions concerning health care. Sometimes though, the general willingness to consult has been said to contribute to the gender differences in presentation of the health issues.
Many women’s organizations argue that gender health care should not only be available and affordable but should also be appropriate and acceptable. Also, health care for women should not depart form the model used for the males in the case of similar illness. On the other hand, women suffer from some diseases that do not affect the men. These kinds of diseases which include the medicalization of women’s reproductive life (childbirth, menstruation, menopause and pregnancy) are presented and treated differently as men are not affected by these kinds of health issues. There’s also gender bias on treatment and management of some common diseases such as lung cancer, kidney failure and cardiovascular disease as there is no adequate care for women (Wijk C., Vliet K., and Kolk A. 2010).
Women’s lack of control over their bodies, inequalities in health status between women and men and the women’s unequal treatment in healthcare and in medical education is an issue that requires urgent global intervention. Also to be considered is the different factors that affect this disparity like social class, race and level of education. Gender analysis should be done so as to differentiate between biological causes and social explanations. This is important because more often, some ‘women diseases’ are seen as less important compared to ‘men diseases’. Even in countries like Norway whose health care system is praised the world over, women are at the risk of getting less recognition, are compensated less money and hence receive poor quality of medical services (Wong Y. 2010).
More often than not, women’s health is regarded to be only restricted to only reproduction and as a result the common diseases that affect both men and women are biased thus their health is relegated to only gynaecology and obstetrics. This is because women are seen as mothers and wives ignoring the fact that they are also human beings who need the obvious medical care needed by all human beings. In some cultures the women are not allowed to use medical centers unless they are given permission by their husbands.
Health Issues in Women
As the girl child grows, different health issues starts to crop in at different stages. The first prevalent issue is that of Female Genital Mutilation, (FGM) that is done at ages 6-12 years. This is usually practiced in many parts of Africa and Asia and according to WHO about 130 million women worldwide have undergone FGM. Although FGM is done for cultural reasons like; a rite of passage to adulthood, improve fertility and enhance pleasure during sex, it has adverse effects to the women which includes; hemorrhage, infections and may lead to death and long term effects like vaginitis, dysmenorrhea and cystitis. The women may also have difficulties during delivery.
Child marriage is also another health issue that has been persistent over the years. Girls who are under the legal age of 18 years are married off and the impact on the girls life is multifaceted as the girl is at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas. Another health issue in women is cervical cancer. It is the second commonest cancer in the world. It generally affects women at the age of 15-45 years of age and according to WHO estimates, 510,000 new cases are reported yearly and it kills about 288,000 women each year. Although the disease is preventable, HPV testing is limited to many countries due to poverty, though efforts are being made to provide low technology methods of “screen and treat” that can be easily affordable. Projects to increase HPV vaccine in developing countries are also underway thus this will reduce the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer (Nour, N 2008).
HIV/AIDS has emerged recently as a global epidemic; it affects an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide and with 6,800 new cases and 5,700 deaths. Although the Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit, statistics show that the ratio of affected HIV-positive women to men is 3:2. Most pregnant women for various reasons are unaware of their HIV status because of lack of accessibility to testing or fear of knowing one’s status due to stigma. ARV’s are available to only a tenth of the affected women but there’s increased improvement to increase the ARV’s to developing nations and also to teach the populace the importance of avoiding risky behaviors as well as empower women through education and employment (Nour, N. 2008).
Breast cancer is another commonly sighted cancer among women although it does rarely affect men. This type of cancer occurs when a breast cell undergoes changes that cause it to grow and multiply uncontrollably. The cancer usually arises from tissues that form milk ducts which then begin to accumulate and form a lining. These cells then begin to fill the milk duct, the cells later develop the ability to break out of the duct and destroy the surrounding cells and at this stage they can affect any tissue in the breast. These cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body by being carried in the bloodstream and form new tumors to the main organs of the body like the brain, liver, bones and can potentially kill at this stage. Breast cancer can be treated by surgery if earlier detected or radiation therapy and chemotherapy to stop the growth of the cancer cells (Women’s Health Issues 2009).
Least but not last is the health issue related to menopause. Menopause is defined as the natural process by which we have the menstruation process ceasing and then a new kind of unfamiliar symptoms appearing. It starts to affect women from the age of 45 years although it differs considerably among the different women. Although menopause is not a disease, it has its own disturbances like hot flashes, night sweats and lack of energy, vaginal dryness and hormonal imbalance. This hormonal imbalance triggers ovarian and breast cancer, strokes and blood clots. Treatment can be by Hormonal Replacement Therapy, a good diet, a healthy lifestyle and counseling (Women’s Health Issues 2009).
Although the above statistics are disheartening, these problems can be solved by not only the affected parties alone but by all of us as we are affected by one way or the other. Governments, non-governmental organizations, the society, policy makers and health practitioners should all come together and invest in the girl child as she is more vulnerable. This will not only affect the girls but the society in general. The issue of early marriages can be tackled by both the government and non-governmental organizations by educating the concerned parties the importance and risks involved in getting their daughters marry earlier. It is also important to ensure that girls are provided with formal education about family planning, their reproductive and sexual health, HIV prevention and how to seek health care. Nations should also prioritize preventive care and treatment programs for the reproductive health issues and try to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Impact of Health Issues
There has been a dramatic increase in the attention of women’s health issues in the recent past. Since 1996 when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) required that women are included in clinical trials. There have been calls to greatly focus on women’s health, in their article of American psychologist, (Rodin and Ickovics 1990) outlined a research agenda for women’s psychology to better understand the unique concerns to women’s health issues. Women’s health should include issues in the context of; poverty, age, ethnicity, violence and sex roles and should begin with women gaining control of their bodies especially through the access of contraception.
Although women live averagely longer than men (approximately 7 years longer in the US), the women suffer from more diseases and more disabilities impacting on the quality of their lives, also although more men than women suffer from cardiovascular disease, more women are affected by the disease than men (Biaggio M. and Hersen M. 2000). Historically, the social science of the society researched on the family planning associated with women predicting on the contraceptive methods suitable for women because it was assumed that women were solely responsible for family planning as the women have always been responsible for their family planning. But recently, there has been research which has been programmed o address the need for family planning policies to address women’s rights. Thus researchers have been called to focus on women’s reproductive health needs and the effect of family planning use on the women’s lives (Fhi 2010).
Though women are also encouraged to take control of their lives like they should say ‘NO’ to sex and early marriages and mean what they say, on the other hand they are denied the alternatives like education, social independence and employment which would in one way liberate them. It has been noted that women wwho use contraceptives to control their sexuality have fewer children and has more opportunities to be involved in the work force and be able to contribute to the society. Women’s social and economic lives can be operationalized by having them participate some of the society activities like; access to health care facilities, education and employment, access to community resources and as well as have security in old age. Through informal and formal roles, women can contribute to the economy as economic productivity is important in this dimension. This will occur only if women’s health issues are tackled by all stakeholders in the society (Family health international 2010).
Strategies to improve well being of life and quality of life
Through the years, women’s advocates have researched and focused their energies on the many critical issues that affect the women’s health across the lifecycle of their lifespan. These include violence against women, gender based research and mental health. Also due to the differences exhibited by health inequalities, all women across the board need special attention. This is aggravated by the fact that women have traditionally had a lower earning power than men which has resulted to a small number of the women who are economically empowered. Hence research that has contributed to public policy changes which have eliminated barriers t health care especially in women with low socioeconomic status.
Women’s health includes the whole range of health services since childbirth. For the first few years after birth, health for the girl child includes a proper nutrition and enough physical exercises and early immunization against communicable diseases. As the girl grows towards the teenage years, she should be made aware of the STIs and HIV/AIDS how they are transmitted, prevention and treatment. The use of drugs should also be highlighted as well as violence as the girl moves to adulthood (American Psychological Association 2010).
Efforts being made to educate women to be responsible for their own health should strongly be supported while those who perpetrate violence against these women should face the full force of the law. This is because violence against women has become such a global epidemic that this gender based violence has been associated to be a risk factor for multiple physical and mental health. Although the direct costs involved in such cases (the cost incurred for the police, the courts and attorneys, cost of treating the victims and those that may be used for counseling) may be high, organizations like National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH, National Institute on aging, National Institute of Nursing Research should partner to help prevent and eradicate violence against women and address concerns over those institutions that diminish women’s worth. The National Institute of Health, NIH, should take the mandate and address the disparity in different women’s health according to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Although the NIH is trying to eliminate this form of discrimination, they should expand their efforts and ensure that their services are sustainable to the majority of the suffering women (American Psychological Association 2010).
Recommendation and conclusion
Unlike men, women do experience a whole lot of diseases that do not affect the men on addition of the other diseases that do affect both of them. It is disheartening to again see that the women’s health issues are dealt with prejudice although they may be suffering the same kind of diseases like their male counterparts, they are also discriminated upon although they are the major care givers.
Women since birth are affected by several health issues that need serious medical attention. These health issues include; early marriage, female genital mutilation, rape, pregnancy, childbirth, breast and cervical cancer as well as menopause. It is also clear that although HIV/AIDS does affect both sexes, women are the ones who suffer the most are the majority who are not only infected but also affected by the epidemic. A lot of effort and resources are needed to make the exercise of empowering the women a success and this should be done not only by the women themselves but also by all of us; the community, the government, non-governmental organizations and policy makers.
Women’s health issues impacts in different way in our society. If the women are empowered, they will actively contribute to the society in education and employment and this is only possible if the women are supported instead of discriminating them upon. It is also important that women do take control of their lives as they chart they destiny which definitely rests on the individuals own hands.
Although more needs to be done, it is noteworthy to see some institutions like the National Institute of Health and National Institute of nursing Research committing their resources and efforts to eliminate gender based disparities concerning health issues that do affect women. The government should also provide frameworks to ensure that perpetrators of violence are dealt upon and justice prevails. In this way, we will not only have healthy women but also a healthy and productive community.