Gender, Race, and Health

I was reading an article for class, out of the Textbook for International Health, in the "Societal determinants of Health and Social Inequalities" chapter, when I came across gender and race and how it related to health.

Gender inequalities and gender discrimination are an important determinant of health. Gender refers to social conceptions and roles rather than biological differences. In other words, health differences due to sex-based differences in biology are not gendered per se, whereas health differences between women and men (whether heterosexuals, transsexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or persons of ambiguous sexuality) due to their differing household responsibilities, decision-making power, occupational roles, or legal rights are considered to be gendered differences. Gender based differences in health status vary over time and place, just as gender roles vary according to era and context. That said, in most societies, women, together with sexual minorities, bear the brunt of gender oppression and prejudice. As such, much work regarding gender equality and health is focused on women (Doyal 2003).

Gender interacts with class, race, and other categories of difference and discrimination in determining access to education, employment, health, and social services. Poverty increases morbidity and mortality for both men and women, but women typically have less control over the material and social conditions of life that foster good health. Yet in societies such as Kerala, where there have been investments in education for girls and an emphasis on increasing women's participation in civil and political life, there have been improvements not only in gender equity but also in population health in general (Ostlin, George, and Sen 2003).

Race, like gender, is a social construction that is used to classify groups into categories based on arbitrary, usually visible, characteristics (e.g., skin color, shape of eyes, etc.). Historically, racial distinctions have been created by dominant societal groups in order to establish or maintain power and privilege at the expense of "the other" group (Krieger 2003). Racism-distinguished from race-is the enactment of structural and systematic forms of oppression and discrimination against particular racial groups by individuals and/or institutions, with racial definitions themselves arising from oppressive systems of race relations. Racism and by a similar account gender inequalities, negatively affects health through eight main pathways:

  1. Economic and social deprivation, which restricts ability to obtain quality education and well-paying, safe, and secure employment;
  2. Greater exposure to toxic substances and hazardous conditions, often experienced as a result of segregated living and working conditions;
  3. Socially inflicted trauma, such as verbal, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and the resulting psychological stress, anxiety, and injury;
  4. Targeted marketing of substances and activities that are harmful to health;
  5. Lower access to appropriate and quality care, leading to inadequate and degrading medical treatment;
  6. Exclusion from political power and decision making;
  7. Unequal treatment by law and order (police and justice) systems; and
  8. State oppression, including inadequate state responses to unfair treatment.

                       Exert from Birn, A., Y. Pillay, & T. H. Holtz. Textbook of International Health: Global Health in a Dynamic World.  New York: Oxford UP, 2009. pg. 330-333

So what are your thoughts about this, and how do you think this concept of gender and race effect health? What experiences have you had with health that you think may have been negatively or positively effected by your gender and or race? Share your stories with us! Tweet us with the #GenderRaceHealth and @EqualityforHER  gender race health

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