In the last few decades, we’ve seen promising advances in healthcare for women, but women still face challenges in diagnosis and treatment that leave them with a lower standard of care.
There are many reasons for this discrepancy. They include:
- The historical exclusion of women from medical research1
- Differences in the signs and symptoms of some diseases in women compared to men
- The biased view that women are more anxious than men, which may lead to their concerns being treated as less serious than they are1
Advocacy for women’s health comes in many forms, from fundraising for research, pushing for better regulations, and providing cultural sensitivity training. Individuals can have a positive impact by starting to get proper care for themselves. Here is a quick guide on advocacy for the appropriate standards of care for yourself and how to champion the cause for better health outcomes for all women.
Your healthcare providers should work with you as partners in your care. If you feel they’re not supporting you adequately, it may be time to make a change. Think about what’s missing, and then research your options. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Check with your provincial Ministry of Health for resources about finding a doctor.
- Meet with potential new providers to assess the fit. Ask questions about your specific concerns and how they usually deal with them.
- If you believe you need a specialist, ask your provider to refer you. You can also check if you can self-refer to the type of specialist you need in your province.
- Research the range of providers that are available based on your healthcare need. For example, many pregnant people prefer a midwife to an obstetrician, and some find a registered massage therapist can be helpful for pain and mobility challenges.
Healthcare providers are not your only resource for managing your health. Building a broader support team can help you get information, social support, and material support (drives to appointments, help with childcare or eldercare, etc.). Here are some ideas to help you grow your network:
- Join a group or network of people with similar health concerns. Finding kindred spirits will make you feel less alone, and you might even gain fresh insights. Of course, only accept medical advice from a medical professional. While Facebook groups and other online gathering spots can offer the support you’re looking for, they are not the place to find medical advice or information.
- Be honest with your family about the challenges you’re facing; they may not know when you need help or what sort of help you need.
- Research the resources available in your municipality: there are plenty of volunteer organizations supporting people living with health challenges. Government websites are an excellent place to start, and seniors may find valuable resources through their local seniors’ centre.
- Join a group that’s just for fun. Continuing with your hobbies and other things you enjoy is beneficial for your mental health, and you’ll make new connections with like-minded people.
If you have the time and the resources, advocating for women’s healthcare is a great way to advance the cause of women everywhere. It may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re new to it, but you can start small and build on your initial efforts. Some ways you can contribute are:
- Help a friend find the resources she needs. Setting appointments can be difficult for some people, so this is a small way to help that has a big impact.
- Raise awareness about women’s health issues. You can do this by posting on social media, participating in fundraising events, or starting an awareness campaign at your work or school. Check with local organizations and your HR department for guidelines and materials that you can use for your event.
- Get involved with organizations that provide healthcare to women or advocate for healthcare equality. You may find a great volunteer opportunity, and you’ll uncover other ways to contribute.
- Find out what’s happening in legislation and regulatory reforms for women’s healthcare. Decision-makers want to hear from the public on these issues, especially if they have experiences to share. If you’re comfortable speaking in public, there might be panels, committees, or public forums where you could use your voice to help bring about better outcomes for women.
According to the Women’s Health Collective Canada, it takes 17 years for research findings to have an impact at ground level.2 Researchers have only been required to include women as research participants for the last 29 years, so most of the research that’s made it into doctor’s offices is based on men’s bodies, disease processes, and experiences. That means that research specific to women needs to be amplified for women’s health outcomes to level up.
You can contribute to this effort by raising awareness, fundraising, or donating directly. You can also consider designating a women’s health charity as a beneficiary of your life insurance or making another type of legacy gift.
Women’s health affects everyone: women continue to be the primary caregivers for both the very young and the elderly in Canadian society, making their health crucial to the wellbeing of Canadian families. Women also make up an increasing proportion of the labour force, showing that they are vital to Canadian companies and contribute significantly to our economy’s fitness. In 2017, McKinsey & Company estimated that if we made advances toward gender equality, our GDP would grow by $150 million by 2026.
Keen to learn more? Get more information about advances in women’s healthcare from the Women’s Health Collective of Canada, an alliance of the top three women’s health foundations and hospitals formed to address gender and sex equality in healthcare in Canada. Their ground-breaking initiatives aim to raise the standard of care for women by increasing awareness, raising funds for research and services, and advocating for regulatory change. Look at their work for more information and inspiration about how you can contribute.