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Women’s Health: The Next Step

By Josepha Esemogie

Every woman in Ontario deserves quality healthcare. Women in Ontario continue to experience health disparities that could be readily reduced. From research to treatment options to access to services and programs, many women are overlooked and underserved because healthcare has traditionally not considered the impact of sex and gender differences.

Our health system has not always understood the factors influencing women’s health status, with only 1.2 percent of Canada’s research chairs in women’s health. Will it ever be understood?

Health Gap

Ontario has a health gap problem, as shown in the healthcare system. Research shows that women’s needs, including physiological differences, cultural challenges, and life circumstances, are often not taken into consideration. Addressing health gaps in women’s health in Canada requires a comprehensive understanding of the numerous factors that contribute to disparities. Socioeconomic, cultural, and structural factors can influence these disparities, and for women in marginalized and disadvantaged communities, this gap is even wider. Some key areas where health gaps may exist for women in Ontario are.

  • Research: Historically, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials, leading to a lack of understanding of how specific treatments may affect them differently than men. Women are often overlooked in health research studies, yet they have different risk factors for certain diseases and may also respond differently to various treatments and medications. Until the 1990s, women were not included in most healthcare and medical research studies.
  • Mental Health: Women are more likely than men to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. The stigma surrounding mental health may prevent some women from seeking help. This also includes the trauma from domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment, which can have profound and lasting effects on women’s physical and mental health.

We can see the prevailing gap in many aspects, including chronic diseases, access to healthcare without geographical or financial barriers, and cultural sensitivity, and we, as Canadians, need to realize that we are failing Ontario women.

Addressing the Health Gap

Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. Nonetheless, our health system has not always understood the factors which influence the health status of women, trans women, girls, and gender-diverse communities, nor has it addressed their issues concerning research, education, leadership, and health interventions.

Addressing health gaps in women’s health is essential to public health efforts in any country, including Canada. While Canada has made noteworthy progress in promoting gender equality and improving women’s health outcomes, more must be done.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health has done some research and made initiatives to address these gaps like the POWER study (Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report), a multi-year project funded by Echo: Improving Women’s Health in Ontario, an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care which produces a comprehensive report on women’s health. But is it enough?

These health gaps require a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving healthcare providers, policymakers, researchers, and communities. Initiatives focusing on education, awareness, and policy changes can contribute to narrowing the health gap in women’s health in Canada.

The Next Step

With all the initiatives and research the government has done, more is needed for the people of Ontario. To reach a certain point where the health gap is reduced, and the disparities are barely visible, the government would have to introduce new policies to make the gap less visible. Some of the changes could include:

  1. Address the Economic Disparities: Reduce health inequities resulting from women’s social roles and status; this includes promoting equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and family-friendly workplace policies.
  2. Access to Healthcare Services: Service planning must consider the unique needs of diverse groups of women. Offer or subsidize childcare services for women with children so they can attend health and support services.
  3. Gender Responsive Policies: This includes policies on chronic conditions, reproductive health, maternal care, mental health, and violence prevention.

The inequities and disparities in the healthcare sector will only disappear once the government acts on new policies to help bridge this gap and create a new healthcare system that Canadians would be proud of.

Communities, countries, and the world are only as strong as their women’s health.