Positive Action and Making Women Visible to #BreakTheBias
Jane Whild, Trustee at HealthWatch Milton Keynes shares her pledges to #BreakTheBias this International Women’s Day
It was reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed For Men by Caroline Criado Perez that inspired to become a Healthwatch MK Trustee in 2019. This ground-breaking book explains how women’s health is compromised by a healthcare system that is biased against them. It highlights, for example, how fundamental differences in the mechanical workings of the female body are not routinely taught to medical students, and how women are underrepresented in clinical trialsLet’s all call to break the bias that ignores any human biology which is different to the male norm.
Craido Perez concluded in her book: “Failing to collect data on women and their lives means that we continue to naturalise sex and gender discrimination”. Indeed, when data is gathered and analysed effectively, it can reveal intersectional health disparities for all patient groups that need to be prioritised. For example, there’s the shocking fact that black women die at four time the rate of white women during pregnancy. Government announced a new Maternity Disparities Taskforce last month.
Let’s keep our eyes on the Taskforce to ensure root causes, such as racial bias, are broken.
On the positive side, the national Women’s Health Strategy which is due out from the Government this spring will use a framework for women’s health, based on a life course approach and six key themes: 1) Menstrual health and gynae conditions, 2) Fertility, pre and post-natal support, 3) Menopause, 4) Healthy ageing and long term conditions, 5) Mental Health, 6) Health impacts of violence against women and girls. At last, a real opportunity to break male bias in the system! The strategy authors talk the talk about ‘efforts to improve’ data collection and disaggregation to tackle disparities.
Let’s scrutinise all data from now on to check that women are visible and included in all their diversity in every report.
When the women’s health strategy arrives, let’s be vigilant that women’s needs are equally considered in all specialties and trials. For example, are equitable studies being conducted into how men and women experience COVID, long-COVID, and vaccination? Then, Telehealth and A.I. offer new opportunities to join up services or to tailor treatment to patients’ need rather than outdated male norms.
Let’s be vigilant to ensure that old biases are not baked into new algorithms.
Let’s check that sex and gender lenses are appropriately applied to all health research, policies, and clinical decisions.
Finally, let’s break the structural biases that affect pay, allocated resources, and career progression of women in the health system. For example, medical research proposals by women, for women, are not awarded funding to the same extent as proposals by men. The 2020 Independent Review reported a 18.9% pay gap for hospital doctors and 15.3% for GPs. This inequity cannot continue, when, for example, women pay the same living costs and childcare costs are among the highest in Europe. Imagine if there were a ‘pay gap tax’ imposed on male peers tomorrow; might they quickly take the positive action, that has long been within their power, to break the bias?
Let’s call for positive action and for frequent, meaningful monitoring, to quickly eradicate pay gaps and maternity penalties.