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Gender differences in health persist

In early October, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) presented its latest gender equality index. At the same time as the data and the analyses were released, a large gender conference was held in Brussels. One issue discussed at the conference was gender equality and health.

‘Gender equality in health is a tricky subject because there are so many influencing factors. The amount of time you spend on leisure activities and on doing unpaid work at home will impact your health, and so will your work situation and economic conditions. So the question of how we should work to improve the gender equality in health is very complicated,’ says Zuzana Madarova from EIGE.

The statistics from the index showed that women outlive men on average, but that they spend more years dealing with health problems. The gender equality in health increased somewhat in Finland, Denmark and Sweden from 2005 to 2015, but some inequalities remain. One of those who has been involved in the work to reduce the gender differences, and who attended the conference in Brussels, is Sirpa Pietikäinen, Finnish member of the European Parliament.

‘First and foremost, everyone must have access to publicly funded health care. The right to abortion as well as information on reproductive health are other absolute necessities. We also need to ensure research on women’s diseases and that women are diagnosed correctly when seeing a doctor. For example, a woman who suffers a heart attack may experience symptoms that differ from those typically seen in males, and consequently she may end up being misdiagnosed,’ says Sirpa Pietikäinen.

The topics addressed during the panel discussion between Pietikäinen, Xavier Cabana-Monné, director general of the EU Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, and Vanessa Moore, researcher at the European Institute of Women’s Health, included the health of persons who do not identify themselves as a woman or a man.

‘There is a need for more knowledge about LGBT persons so that the current stigma can be avoided,’ says Sirpa Pietikäinen.

The panel was unanimous in its views of people with non-traditional gender identities, but as was the case for all speakers at the conference, this attitude was not reflected in the language used, as all discussions about gender only made reference to women and men.

‘There are no data, so they are never included in the statistics,’ Zuzana Madrova from EIGE explained.

Updated 15 January 2020