The Power of Women’s Health: A Catalyst for Economic Prosperity
October 3, 2023
“Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny: period pains, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives, men don’t.” This quote from Fleabag, a British television series certainly resonates with many women. Unfortunately, the fact is many serious health problems are often ignored or overlooked just because a woman’s pain is not taken as seriously as a man’s.
While ignorance may be bliss in some instances, it should not be when it comes to health. However, most women in India swear by this famous phrase. In the heart of India’s rapid economic growth and development, a silent epidemic continues to flourish — the neglect of women’s health. Despite significant progress in various sectors, this issue often takes a back seat, leading to dire consequences for women and the country’s economy as a whole.
Women play an integral role in every facet of our society, from homes to boardrooms. They are shattering the glass ceiling in every industry and are overcoming stereotypes in many ways, but do not put their health first. There are many reasons why women often prioritize the well-being of their families over their own health, which include:
- Cultural norms and gender roles: India’s cultural fabric has long dictated distinct gender roles. Women are often expected to be caretakers of the family, and their own health takes a back seat. The cultural expectation that women should put their families first can discourage them from seeking medical care or taking time for themselves.
- Lack of autonomy: In many households, women have limited financial and decision-making autonomy. This can affect their ability to access healthcare services independently, as they may need approval or financial support from other family members. As a result, women may delay or forgo medical treatment.
- Stigma and shame: Women’s health issues, such as sexual and mental health, are often shrouded in stigma and silence. Conversations about these topics are discouraged, making it difficult for women to seek information or discuss their concerns openly. Women experiencing these issues hesitate to seek help due to the fear of social judgment and discrimination.
- Limited access to healthcare: In rural areas, access to quality healthcare is often limited. Women may have to travel long distances to reach healthcare facilities, which can be challenging and financially burdensome.
- Economic constraints: Poverty and financial constraints can force women to prioritize the immediate needs of their families over their own health. When resources are limited, seeking medical care may be perceived as a luxury for a family member who is not the primary breadwinner.
- Lack of awareness and education: Inadequate health literacy and limited access to education can leave women unaware of the importance of regular check-ups, preventive care, and early intervention.
- Fear of diagnosis: The fear of receiving a serious diagnosis can discourage women from seeking medical attention. This fear is compounded by the apprehension of being a burden on their families if they are diagnosed with a chronic or severe illness.
- Gender bias: Gender bias within the healthcare system is also a major contributor to this issue. Some women report feeling dismissed or not taken seriously by healthcare providers, which can deter them from seeking care.
Economics of women’s health
Ignoring health concerns can lead to severe health consequences. Higher mortality rates in women can be due to serious conditions like breast cancer or something as common as childbirth. Moreover, the lack of access to family planning and reproductive healthcare can also result in unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. This further leads to inter-generational impact as unhealthy mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight or malnourished children, perpetuating a cycle of poor health and limited opportunities for the next generation. When women suffer from health issues, their participation in the workforce diminishes. This, in turn, limits their economic contributions to their families and society.
India is a developing country, and women’s roles in society are directly linked to our economy, hence the economic implications of women neglecting their health are significant. When a large segment of the population, i.e., women, is in poor health, it translates to reduced productivity and economic potential. This also results in the loss of a vast reservoir of untapped human capital.
From wellness to wealth
Addressing this problem requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including the government, healthcare providers, civil society, and communities. Expanding access to quality healthcare in rural areas and urban slums is critical, therefore, mobile clinics and telemedicine services can help bridge the gap. Additionally, initiatives that raise awareness about women’s health issues and challenge societal stigmas must be promoted. This should also include providing comprehensive sex education and mental health support.
Empowering women economically can give them the agency to prioritize their health. Toward this end, microfinance programmes and skill development initiatives should be implemented. Along with these initiatives, government policies must focus on gender-sensitive healthcare reforms, including affordable and accessible maternal care, mental health services, and reproductive healthcare.
By investing in women’s health, India can unlock the full potential of its workforce, reduce healthcare costs, and pave the way for a healthier and more prosperous future. It’s time to recognize that the health of women is not just a women’s issue; it’s an economic imperative. How long are people going to normalize the pain women go through under the cover of ‘all women face it?’ Think about it. Through every phase of life, women are warriors, and their bodies are a testament to their strength.
The need to talk about women’s health transcends borders, cultures, and backgrounds. As healthcare communicators, by facilitating open, honest conversations, we can pave the way for a future in which every woman’s health is valued, protected, and nurtured.