September 13, 2023
By: Lily Cox Senior Account Executive, Evoke Mind+Matter
'We still face wide gaps in research and treatment ability for areas that are unique to women' – this was the recent conclusion from the World Economic Forum.  The gender health gap is systemic and still affects the lives of women around the world in untold ways. Slow progress can be attributed to a lack of funding, clinical research, and data on women's health issues. 
Change is possible by elevating the importance and understanding of the problem. And as healthcare marketers, we are uniquely positioned to positively influence the dialogue around women's health - by deconstructing taboos, increasing awareness of the key gender health gap statistics and challenging our clients to do the same. So, here are four books you can read to learn more about women's health and the gender health gap, to help inform the important healthcare marketing work we do.
Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine and Myth in a Man-Made World
By Elinor Cleghorn
Unwell Women unearths the history of women's health from ancient Greece to the present day. Dr Elinor Cleghorn pays tribute to the countless women who contributed to the medical discoveries and consequent progress we benefit from today. Such as the nameless unwell women unknowingly experimented on by their physicians in the name of science, but also the defiant activists who dared to challenge the dominant clinical beliefs about women’s bodies.
From her extensive research into medical history, Cleghorn encourages us to question, could Ancient Greek women diagnosed with ‘wandering wombs’ have had endometriosis? Could ‘hysteric’ women of the 19th century have been enduring chronic pain? Might Jacobean ‘witches’ just have been going through the menopause?
In equal parts fascinating and horrifying, this book is to be devoured, so you'll feel the chapters racing towards present day with continued evidence of medicine's biases. Issues of women’s health have clearly transformed since Ancient Greece, but Cleghorn highlights how far there is still to go. This is especially true in the realm of autoimmune diseases and for ethnically diverse women for whom discrimination is magnified.
Unwell Women prioritises cisgender women’s stories, so much is still to be said about the health experiences of LGTBQ+ people throughout history. That said, Cleghorn’s contribution to research in this area aims to dismantle androcentric medicine and the health care gap for the benefit of all.
How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control
By Dr Sarah E. Hill
In How the Pill Changes Everything, Dr Sarah E. Hill interrogates the emerging clinical evidence on what really happens to women's bodies while on the hormonal contraceptive pill. The pill is arguably one of the greatest advancements in women’s quality of life since the 1960's, affording them more sexual freedom and reproductive choice.
Hill doesn’t undermine what the pill has done for women. But she seeks to educate how, because we are our hormones, the pill changes quite literally everything for better or worse. She uncovers findings otherwise jargonized within scientific literature, that suggest the pill causes structural and functional changes in the brain, prevents the normal cortisol spike in response to stress and influences mate selection.
The research dissected in the book focuses almost exclusively on the experiences of heterosexual cisgender women, because they are generally the people who go on the birth control pill. Of course some lesbian women, plus non-binary and transgender people, go on the pill for reasons other than pregnancy prevention. Hill highlights another data gap here, in that research tends to overlook this reality.
So, Hill calls for 'good, thoughtful science done on how we work and who we become on the pill'. But in the meantime, her book outlines the findings currently available, to support women and people taking the pill in making more informed choices about their own health.
By Maisie Hill
Browse the online reviews for Period Power and you're bound to come across dismissals of it being too 'woo woo', or in other words, lacking scientific basis. Maisie Hill is a women's health practitioner and birth doula, who uses evidence from her career to inform the ‘Cycle Strategy'. This approach teaches women how to harness the ebbs and flows of each phase of the menstrual cycle to maximise their 'natural superpowers'.
While for some readers, the mostly anecdotal evidence in support of Hill's strategy is unconvincing, the book follows an age-old tradition of women drawing on experience and intuition to improve the health of their sisters in the absence of 'serious', male-dominated science.
Through the ‘Cycle Strategy', Hill claims people with periods will be more attuned with their cycle but also better equipped to identify hormonal imbalances. Hill also shows how the ‘Cycle Strategy' can be adapted and evolved to suit each individual and their needs regardless of whether they’re currently menstruating, like if they're transgender, post-menopausal, or on hormonal birth control.
ActionAid UK research found last year that a quarter of UK women have faced ‘period shaming’, which shows that despite recent progress, the stigma around menstruation is alive and kicking. So whether or not you choose to implement Hill’s strategy, simply talking openly what it’s like to have a period, and reframing menstruation as something to be embraced, is a positive force for change in tackling women’s health care issues.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
By Caroline Criado Perez
Crash test dummies modelled on the male body means women are more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ standard piano keyboard is resulting in female pianists with smaller handspans suffering more from work-related injuries. A lack of recognition around women's unpaid work, often on top of their day jobs, is making them stressed and sick. And treating women for illness, excluding women from clinical research and the enduring assumption that male bodies can represent humanity as a whole, means women are more frequently misdiagnosed and mistreated.
In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez shows us that we need to mind the health gap. The failure to collect data on women has resulted in a chasm between what is perceived to be the truth by the key decision-makers, versus the true lived experiences of women. This imbalance manifests in an invisible bias that pervades every aspect of women's lives, at a terrible cost to their health. It's also important to note that there are numerous factors that make an individual more invisible to society, not limited to their biological sex, such as race, poverty, disability and gender variance.
This book unearths the magnitude of the problem, but it also illuminates the ways in which the health care equality gap can be closed: 'when women are involved in decision-making, in research, in knowledge production, women do not get forgotten'.
The four books above offer an insight into women’s health and the gender health gap. As healthcare marketers, the more we can understand about the issue, the better equipped we are to drive change. That said, the issue is much more complicated and far-reaching than can be expressed in just four books. Self-education is a powerful feminist tool, so I’d encourage you to do your own reading. You could start with reading my colleague Rachel Butcher’s piece examining the cultural roots of the UK health gap.
But also, listen to the health experiences of your friends, family, colleagues that identify as women, and share your own experiences if you feel comfortable. At Evoke, where our purpose is to make health more human™, we are passionate about putting the soul into science, and we endeavour to carry our human insights with us into our daily work as healthcare marketers. Only then can we hope to take on the big issues in healthcare, and bridge the health gender gap.
World Economic Forum. Why is women’s healthcare globally so often overlooked? January 2023. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/01/women-health-gap-davos-2023/ [Accessed June 2023].
ActionAid. A quarter of UK women face period stigma as millions miss school, work and exercise. May 2022. Available from: https://www.actionaid.org.uk/latest-news/quarter-uk-women-face-period-stigma-millions-miss-school-work-and-exercise [Accessed June 2023].
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