BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health and Gender Inequality



Before we talk about gender inequality, let’s first take a look at what gender is…

World Health Organization defines gender as the socially constructed qualities of women and men- such as norms, roles and relationships with people. These qualities vary from society to society and may depend on location, age, religion and other social or economic factors. Gender is different from sex; which is our anatomy as female, male, or intersex based on internal and external bodies including sexual and reproductive organs, genetic makeup, and hormones. When people are born into a certain society or community, they observe and are taught gender norms and behaviours peculiar to that group including standards on how to interact with people of the same or opposite sex, within households and work places.

Given that gender roles are set ‘standard observed in communities, individuals or groups that do not “fit” these established gender norms often face stigma, discriminatory practices or social exclusion, all of which negatively impact health. Most times, the roles of men and women are already “defined” in many societies. These gender norms, roles and relations can influence people’s susceptibility to different health conditions and diseases and potentially affect their mental and physical health and wellbeing. They also influence health outcomes and the likelihood of accessing health services due to fear of being judged.

In many societies, not just Africa, these gender roles put women at a disadvantage, creating wealth and consequently, health gaps between men and women. In Canada, the Center for Social Justice records that this gender gap is much wider than most people know, despite many years of trying and several efforts to close the gap. A few general facts and examples to buttress this point include:

  • In many countries, while husbands can divorce their wives with much ease, wives’ access to divorce is often extremely limited.
  • Women are poorer in may countries. For example: In Canada, poverty rates for women in general is as high as 20%; for women of colour and aboriginal women, it is 37% and 43% respectively. The percentages for men are lower.
  • Women’s low income would constitute high risk of poverty in retirement and this can limit access to health care. Due to poverty, many female seniors may also not afford quality health care since retirement income is a function of lifetime earnings.
  • Many countries still deny women the opportunity of going to school. We all know that education is a social determinant of health
  • Many countries do not have laws to punish domestic violence, of which women are usually vulnerable to and victims of
  • In countries like Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, decision to travel for women is completely at the mercy of the men.

In conclusion, gender inequality affects health like many other social determinants of health.

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