By Dr. Esther I. Azi
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2017, focuses on “Women in the Changing World of Work: #BeBoldForChange
The International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is an important opportunity to:
- celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women because visibility and awareness help drive positive change for women
- declare bold actions you’ll take as an individual or organization to help progress the gender agenda because purposeful action can accelerate gender parity across the world
While we celebrate women and their achievements and advancements, and pledge to take action on changing gender norms as it affects women especially at the place of work; let us critically take a look at how gender affects our health.
Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as the norms, roles and relationships that exist between them. While most people are born either male or female (biological sex), they are taught appropriate behaviours for males and females (gender norms) – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and workplaces (gender relations) and which functions or responsibilities they should assume in society (gender roles).
Biology plays a role in our health, we cannot help being a man or woman. Only a woman can suffer cervical cancer and a man prostrate cancer. However, your biology allows you to escape certain health problems or affect you in varying degrees and ways.
Heart disease. Among men age 65 and over, more than 39 percent have heart disease, compared to about 27 percent of women in the same age group.
Why: While women’s bodies tend to be pear-shaped, men’s bodies are generally apple-shaped. When women gain weight, it often lands on their hips and thighs, while men almost always put weight on around the middle. It is this type of central body fat that is a risk factor for heart disease. Also, men don’t have the protection of estrogen. Estrogen may keep women’s cholesterol levels in check, reducing a key heart disease risk factor. However, once women hit menopause, their heart disease risk goes up.
Parkinson’s disease. This disabling neurological disease affects about 50 percent more men than women.
Why: Researchers suggest that this may also have to do with estrogen, which protects neurological function by activating certain proteins or interacting with molecules called free radicals. Men’s relative lack of estrogen leaves them with less protection. Several studies have also pointed to the possibility that Parkinson’s disease has a genetic link to the male X chromosome.
Males are also more at risk for the following, autism, kidney stones and pancreatitis.
Stroke. More women suffer strokes than men.
Why: Many factors play into this statistic, but estrogen is chief among them. The changing levels of estrogen, not the estrogen itself, affect the substances in blood that cause clots. More activity results in more clotting, and that can lead to a higher risk of stroke.
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis have many more female sufferers than males.
Why: Women start out with thinner, smaller bones and less bone tissue than men. Through most of their lives, women’s bones are protected by estrogen, which may block a substance that kills bone cells. However, when women begin to lose estrogen during menopause, it causes loss of bone mass (osteoporosis).
Females are also more at risk for the following, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, Urinary tract issues and multiple sclerosis.
There is also gender equality in disease, diabetes and hypertension strike both men and women in equal numbers and generally affects them in the same way.
Gender affects health in the following ways. It is accepted by gender norms for a man to be in charge and in control which involves risky behaviours that lead to contraction of sexually transmitted infections. Men also suffer injuries and disabilities more from road traffic accidents, wars and conflicts because of certain occupations and habits abrogated to men. Women on the hand are spared relatively from these due to exclusion and discrimination, their gender now bestows a seemingly positive benefit for them while the reverse is the case for men.
Women suffer harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, violence and abuse, sexually transmitted infections and mortality which impart on their health because of the lack of ability to negotiate sex or take decisions in a patriarchal society.
Poverty, illiteracy and gender are negative determinants of health and disease which are modifiable unlike sex which is a biological attribute that cannot be changed. Gender norms of a society are learned and can be unlearned and changed to give both men and women a positive outlook to life.
Protecting your health is gender neutral
Men and women basically need to do the same things to take care of themselves — at the core that means living a healthy lifestyle. Women seek healthcare more than men, makes them look vulnerable but this makes them live longer, men on the other hand want to be courageous in health and disease and die prematurely. Don’t let gender norms or dictates get in the way of your health, live a positive healthy lifestyle by drinking moderately, ceasing to smoke, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting screened for illnesses peculiar to your sex.
Dr. Esther Ibinabo Azi has a degree in Human Anatomy, Medicine and Surgery, a Masters in Gender and Women Development and is training to become a Specialist in Public Health. She is passionate about Preventive and Social medicine and undertakes this task in her writing and public speaking. She can be reached on twitter @estarib24, Facebook on Esther Ibinabo Azi. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.