Did you know that in Canada we have a week dedicated to raising awareness about gender equality?

Since the passing of Bill C-309 (the Gender Equality Week Act) in 2018, Gender Equality Week now falls on the fourth week of September each year; this year, it’s September 19-25.

And, did you know that gender equality and health are inter-connected?

Because our society ranks and values gender unequally, it leads to unequal opportunities that drive health inequalities, making gender a social determinant of health.

Before we dig into that further, let’s define some terms.

First, “gender” is not to be confused with “sex,” which is a set of biological attributes such as chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy; sex is usually categorized as female or male.

Gender, however, refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender-diverse peoplean umbrella term that is used to describe gender identities that demonstrate a diversity of expression beyond the binary framework.

Because gender norms and roles are created socially, economically, culturally, and politically, a person’s gender can often be a predictor of their health outcomes over their lifetime. Gender discrimination tends to lead to women and gender-diverse people experiencing worse health outcomes due to how they are viewed, treated, accepted, and cared for in our society.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Gender and Sex infographic

The goal is to achieve gender equality—when people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities.

Gender inequality, on the other hand, leads to health risks for women and girls globally, according to the World Health Organization, and “addressing gender norms and roles leads to a better understanding of how the social construction of identity and unbalanced power relations between men and women affect the risks, health-seeking behaviour, and health outcomes of men and women in different age and social groups.”

For example, gender inequality puts women and girls at greater risk of infection and disease, violence and abuse, and stigma and discrimination that can also lead to poor mental health. The issue of gender inequality is so critical to the health and prosperity of our population and planet, that achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is one of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with a set of key targets to be met by 2030.

If we want to improve the health and wellbeing of women, girls, and gender-diverse people, we needn’t look farther than to think about how we may be able to reduce gender inequalities in our neighbourhoods, communities, workplaces, and even in our own homes.

And it’s important to understand that this is an issue for all—everyone, regardless of their gender, has a part to play in moving society toward gender equality, and in turn improving the health and wellbeing for all of us.

When you commit to doing your part to promote gender equality, you are choosing to Activate Health.

Here are seven ways you can Activate Health and promote gender equality:

  1. Celebrate how far we’ve already come and learn what achievements have been made to move us toward a more equal future—women have more control over their health than ever before. While progress surely has been made, gender equality has not yet been reached in Canada; there’s much more work to do.

  2. Learn and take courses, such as the Government of Canada’s Gender-based Analysis Plus course to learn how to take a gender- and diversity-sensitive approach to your work and in your workplace.

  3. Read and share reputable resources. A good place to start is with West Coast LEAF’s BC Gender Equality Report Card that assesses the provincial government’s progress in six areas that impact the human rights of women and people facing various types of gender discrimination.

  4. Vote for leaders who have a good track record of supporting, creating, and implementing actions around gender equality. Be sure to think not just municipally, provincially, or federally, but advocate for gender equality-promoting leaders to sit on boards of organizations, businesses, and unions as well.

  5. On a global level, see where we are today when it comes to gender equality, then find an area of interest to you. Care about women and girls’ education? How about improving their access to clean water? Or preventing violence against women? Research ways to get involved with your area of interest and stay connected with the latest campaigns and networks doing this important work.

  6. Starting this year, September 30th will be known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the Federal government’s commitment to “honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.” To acknowledge this national day and its tie to gender equality, deepen your understanding of Canada’s longstanding history of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the intergenerational trauma it creates, by reading “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” and check out our recent Indigenous Health and Rights blog post.

  7. Last, but certainly not least, take ownership of the fact that gender equality is everyone’s issue. If you’re experiencing privileges due to your gender identity, acknowledge your privileges and use them to speak up and speak out for gender equality.

All things considered, none of this is easy—gender equality is a complex and multi-faceted issue.

And while we may not see true gender equality for some time, if each of us commits to taking one (even small) gender equality-promoting action regularly, the ripple effects can be enormous, leading to positive changes for not just women, girls, and gender-diverse people living today, but for those yet to come.

Improving gender equality means improving health. This is the power of Activate Health.

“We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.”

Rosemary Brown, politician, activist, and Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature

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