“Be active and eat a healthy diet” are a couple of suggestions in one of Canada’s online healthy living guides to encourage people to make healthy choices. 

These individual actions can be difficult for anyone, but even more so for those who experience obstacles due to systemic barriers that make individual actions complex. It’s not enough to be provided with health tips, we must also have the opportunities, including but not limited to, choices that are conducive to living a healthy life, and we must understand that a healthy life may look different for different groups, communities, and populations. For example, to eat healthy, we need access to healthy food, enough money to buy it, and ample time to prepare it. To be active, we need resources like money, time, and energy, and a safe environment.

Simply put, our health isn’t entirely up to us. In fact, approximately 75% of our health is determined by other factors. The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are a group of social, economic, and environmental factors that impact one’s place in the world, and one’s health status.

Infographic of the Social Determinants of Health
Infographic of the Social Determinants of Health

You’ll notice that gender is a SDOH; your gender identity is a major influencer of your overall health. Women, who make up over half of our population in Canada, and are at greater risk of infection and disease, violence and abuse, and stigma and discrimination, which negatively impact their physical and mental health and wellbeing. One reason why we have International Women’s Day in March or Women’s History Month in October, is to celebrate the achievements of women, yes, but also to raise awareness of the gaps and inequities that exist. Only 7% of our federal healthcare dollars go to women’s health, and women’s health research is greatly underfunded

Health is a human right—women and all genders should have the opportunity to reach their highest health potential. In order for women to be able to have control over their health, there are many inter-sectional and inter-connected factors that come into play. All genders deserve the fundamentals, like safe and affordable housing, access to healthy food and health services, and steady and reliable income.

A significant factor in health as a human right is in relation to sexual and reproductive health and human rights, and this includes reproductive justice. The overturning of Roe vs Wade in the United States has created a deadly barrier to health and human rights.

To move toward gender equity in health, we must remove obstacles that hinder women from achieving good health. Whenever you get involved in promoting gender equality or women’s rights, you are also helping to improve health outcomes for women.

Want to support gender health equity? Here are some questions to consider.

How can I better understand the difference between “equality” and “equity?”

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Embrace Equity.’ “Equality” and “equity” are terms that often get confused and misused. Make sure you know the difference, then share your knowledge with others. Here’s a graphic to help illustrate:

Bike graphic illustrating the difference between equality and equity
Bicycle graphic illustrating the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ (credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

Equality is giving everyone the same bike, but equity is giving everyone their own bike that suits their needs. Learn more in our Health Equity 101 blog post, part of our Decoding Public Health series.

How can I support women’s health equity?

On International Women’s Day, we attended ScienceUpFirst’s “Sex, Lies, and Hormones: The Truth About Women’s Health” event. A panelist suggested to find an area of women’s equity that you’re passionate about, learn as much as you can, then find or join others who also champion the cause. 

Recently, we celebrated the announcement that, starting April 1, 2023, prescription contraception will be free to BC residents. This victory was the result of continual action and persistence over many years. Let this triumph serve as a reminder of the old adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

How can you take your interests, skills, and strengths to make a difference for women’s health equity?

How can I support gender equity?

You don’t have to support women’s health directly to support women’s health equity. Supporting gender equity makes a tremendous impact on women’s health and wellbeing. Consider how providing women with free resources and education to obtain employment, closing the pay gap, advancing reproductive rights and justice, and $10/day childcare, help improve health equity for women.

It’s also important for men to “show up” for women. If you’re a man, consider how you can use your privilege, status, or voice to promote gender equity. “Show up” literally for women by attending public women’s rights events like the Annual Women’s March in Vancouver every February 14th or advocating for equal pay for women in sports.

How can you take your privileges, resources, and presence to support women’s equity?

Finally, if you’re a parent, remember that you have a role to play at home with your children. Consider any gender differences in the way you treat your children:

  • Do you encourage your children assigned male to play sports (or certain sports) but not your children assigned female?
  • Do you inspire your children assigned female to pursue interests, skills, or studies that are traditionally seen as “masculine?” 
  • For your younger children, do you gift them toys and books, or assign them chores at home, that are typically associated with their “gender?” 

We hope we helped to shine a light on some of the obvious, and maybe less obvious, ways you can promote health equity for women, and all genders. Your actions, whether big or small, have power, and each action matters, which is why Activate Health is our battle cry for British Columbians.

We urge you to act, in your own unique and special way, to improve the lives of women and girls, and all genders, not just on International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month, but all year round. Through our actions, we can create a healthier, safer, more equitable world for women.

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