Women’s Health in BC: What is the Gender Gap?
Updated: Apr 21
Did you know that there is a gender gap in health care? This means that men and women do not always have the same access to healthcare services. Unfortunately, women often face more barriers to getting the care they need than men do. The Gender Pain Gap specifically, refers to the bias against women as it relates to pain treatment. In the landmark study called "The Girl Who Cried Pain", researchers found that women often experience dismissal of their health concerns contributing to misdiagnosis, delayed treatment, neglect, and incorrect medicine dosages (Hoffman & Tarzian, 2001).
The gender gap in healthcare is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive approach to address the underlying factors that contribute to it. In a survey conducted by the British Columbia Women's Health Foundation in 2019, almost 1/3 of women did not feel their needs were being treated effectively by the healthcare system and women with chronic conditions were 1.4 times more likely to report unmet healthcare needs. The disparities in access to care, quality of care, and outcomes for women in BC highlight the need for action to ensure that all individuals receive the care they need to achieve and maintain good health.
What contributes to the Gender Gap?
One of the primary factors that contribute to the gender gap in healthcare is the presence of stereotypes and biases among healthcare providers. These biases can lead to differences in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of health conditions for men and women. For example, 70% of patients with “medically unexplained symptoms” are women, and these symptoms are frequently and incorrectly linked to a psychological origin (Dusenbury, 2017). In these circumstances, women are often told that their symptoms are due to anxiety or stress rather than a physical condition. Imagine experiencing real pain and then, on top of your suffering, having to constantly advocate for yourself to be believed.
How can we close the Gender Gap?
1. Improving the availability and accessibility of women's healthcare services
This can include increasing the number of primary care providers who are trained in women's health, as well as increasing the availability of specialized services such as gynecological care and mental health support. According to the Women’s College Hospital Foundation, the prevalence of mental health issues during the reproductive life stages (such as menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause) adds to the complexity of care and treatment for individuals with vulvas. Yet most mental health research and therapy is based on a heteronormative and Eurocentric male experience. By ensuring that women have access to comprehensive and appropriate healthcare services, we can help prevent and manage health conditions and improve outcomes for women.
2. Increasing the representation of women in leadership positions
Another important factor is the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in the healthcare industry. Increasing representation in leadership positions could help ensure that women's healthcare needs are better understood and addressed in decision-making processes. Having women in these positions to support other women can help with better understanding the needs and filling this gap.
3. Engaging in community outreach & education
Finally, engaging in community outreach and education can help to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of preventive care and early treatment. Programs that educate women about their healthcare needs and options, as well as the resources available to them, can help to reduce barriers to care and improve health outcomes.
Women, trans, and non-binary individuals often face more barriers to getting the care they need than men do. The gender gap in healthcare is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive approach to address the underlying factors that contribute to it. We need to address the underlying causes of these disparities. This could mean increasing the number of women in leadership roles, implementing training for healthcare providers to recognize their biases, and developing policies to make healthcare more accessible for women. We also need to improve the availability of women’s health services and make sure that women know about the resources available to them.
How is CAYA Health Centre addressing the Gender Gap?
CAYA Health Centre is a women-owned health clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia. We prioritize training for our practitioners in the areas of women’s health, gender-affirming care, and trauma-informed practice. We work in collaboration to try and reduce barriers and communicate with our team to provide the best services to our clients. Part of our vision is also offering accessible community workshops on topics related to healthcare for women, trans, and non-binary individuals. If you or your organization would like to learn more, please contact us! We hope to work together to close the gender gap in healthcare and strive for equal access to care for everyone.
Interested in learning more?
British Columbia Women’s Health Foundation (2019), In Her Words: Women’s Experience with the Healthcare System in British Columbia.
The Pain Gap: How Sexism and Racism in Healthcare Kill Women by Anushay Hossain
Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine And Myth in a Man-Made World by Elinor Cleghorn
Hormonal: A Conversation About Women’s Bodies, Mental Health and Why We Need to Be Heard by Eleanor Morgan
Pain and Prejudice: A call to arms for women and their bodies by Gabrielle Jackson
British Columbia Women’s Health Foundation (2019), In Her Words: Women’s Experience with Healthcare System in British Columbia.
Hoffmann, D. E., & Tarzian, A. J. (2001). The girl who cried pain: a bias against women in the treatment of pain. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 28, 13-27.
Maya Dusenbury (2017) Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180523-how-gender-bias-affects-your-healthcare?ocid=global_future_rss
Women’s College Hospital Foundation, The Health Gap facts. Available at http://thehealthgap.ca/