The 8th of March is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day that recognizes and upholds the achievements of women around the world, as well as promotes gender equality. This IWD 2022’s theme is #BreakTheBias, and it has the aim to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and act for equality. Whether deliberate or unconscious, the bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists is not enough; action is needed to level the playing field.
Gender has been widely recognized as a social determinant of health, and as such, gender biases can contribute to gender-based health disparities. Diversification of the biomedical workforce appears to be a critical but rate-limiting factor in reducing sex and gender biases that permeate biomedicine. As more gender-diverse perspectives are included in selecting, writing, reviewing, and publishing case reports, their subsequent quality and educational value are likely to improve. Acknowledging and actively addressing biases may further a better understanding of the influences of sex and gender on health and disease, ultimately minimizing health disparities. The overrepresentation of men has shaped the understanding of health and disease as clinical research study subjects, scientists, and physicians, sometimes to the disadvantage of women. Male patients are overrepresented in Covid-19 case reports, which could be due to sex differences in disease frequency, severity, and immunological response. In the presence of contributory comorbidities, sex and gender differences may also alter Covid-19 disease severity and treatment outcomes.
Because of biological and gender-related distinctions, being a man or a woman substantially impacts health. Women’s and girls’ health is particularly significant since they are disadvantaged in many countries due to prejudice based on sociocultural factors. Some of the sociocultural factors that prevent women and girls from receiving quality health services and achieving the best possible level of health are the uneven power relationships between men and women. Other factors contributing to inequality are the social norms that limit education and paid employment opportunities for women and the exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles. Furthermore, the potential or actual experience of physical, sexual, and emotional violence can prevent women from achieving wellbeing.
Fundamental women’s and human rights include access to essential health services, the opportunity to enjoy rights and freedoms, and the right to equal opportunities regardless of gender. Women’s and girls’ access to healthcare has been disrupted since confinement measures have exacerbated gender-based violence, and girls have been more marginalized. Worryingly, it appears that we are not learning from our mistakes, as women and girls have faced similar problems in earlier health crises. Increases in abuse, assault, and exploitation of women and girls were also documented during the Ebola epidemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has overburdened health systems worldwide as they strive to keep up with care demands, causing collateral damage to women’s health. Many countries have failed to maintain sexual and reproductive health services, resulting in women’s neglect and increased health risks. The economic downturn brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak has directly impacted the food security of the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Women found their food security impacted by the epidemic, affecting the availability and access to food due to the decrease in trade chain and the reduction, or loss, of jobs and income. Women’s roles in food systems are influenced by sex and gender disparities, as they are frequently one of the agents that contribute to and ensure family food security. The gender bias attributed to the family load of caring for the ill, children, and the elderly, leads to a higher risk of Covid-19 exposure, degrading the food production, processing, and commerce chain.
Governments and organizations must alleviate the pandemic’s impacts, and the scientific community must examine the crises’ impact on low-income countries and vulnerable populations. Sugar, refined carbs, and low-quality oils are all linked to the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Families from poor communities are sometimes forced to consume these detrimental nutrients because of a lack of nutrition education or because they cannot afford or know how to acquire nutritious foods. While poverty is a significant impediment to men and women’s health and education, it disproportionately affects women in low and middle-income countries. The pandemic harmed women and girls’ fundamental rights, and we must learn from its consequences to rebuild better and guarantee that these groups are not left behind. It has been established that empowering women and girls improves the health and wellbeing of the entire family and community. We must take advantage of the chance to reform education by incorporating new teaching approaches that address the particular requirements of girls and young women in terms of safety, health, and wellbeing.
Eat Better South Africa (EBSA), the community outreach branch of The Noakes Foundation, aims to empower people, especially women, from under-resourced communities to improve their health by making the best dietary choices available to them. EBSA runs nutrition education programs that last around six weeks and promotes low carbohydrate diets to prevent or treat metabolic conditions. The recommended diet mainly focuses on reducing simple sugars, refined carbs and oils, and processed junk food and encourages consumption of affordable vegetables, fish, meats, and food that contain healthy fats such as nuts and avocados.
This year for Women’s International Day, strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias image, video, resources, presentation or articles on social media using #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.
Ghouaibi, A. The pandemic has hurt women’s health. This is why that’s bad for everyone. World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/09/lessons-must-be-learned-from-covid-19-s-impact-on-women-s-health-and-rights/Pujol-Busquets, G.; Smith, J.; Larmuth, K.; Fàbregues, S.; Bach-Faig, A. Exploring the
Perceptions of Women from Under-Resourced South African Communities about Participating in a Low-Carbohydrate High-Fat Nutrition and Health Education Program: A Qualitative Focus Group Study. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/4/894#cite
Salter-Volz AE, Oyasu A, Yeh C, Muhammad LN and Woitowich NC (2021) Sex and Gender Bias in Covid-19 Clinical Case Reports. Front. Glob. Womens Health 2:774033. doi: 10.3389/fgwh.2021.774033
World Health Organization (WHO). Women’s health. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/women-s-health/
About the author – Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén
Georgina holds a BSc in Pharmacy from the University of Barcelona, Spain and an MSc in Nutrition and Public Health and an MSc in Global Health. After working in community pharmacies and public hospitals in Spain, USA, and Peru, she realized the need for a nutritional approach to chronic disease. She worked as an intern for The Noakes Foundation in 2017 and she has finalized her PhD in Physiology at the University of Cape Town. She is part of Eat Better South Africa’s research team and her study was a mixed-method project to evaluate the effectiveness of Eat Better South Africa nutrition education program on components of metabolic health and well-being in women from South African under-resourced communities.
She is also teaching Qualitative Methods at the Master of Nutrition and Public Health at the Open University of Catalonia. In 2021 she was the recipient of the Tim & Marilyn Noakes Grant fellowship and she will start a Postdoctoral position at MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Georgina is passionate about inequality, women’s rights, nutrition, public health, and diet-related diseases. Her research career is focused on understanding the social determinants that affect women’s health in low-income communities and how to bring low carbohydrate diets into those areas to treat metabolic diseases. She believes that through Eat Better South Africa programs women are empowered and consequently, the wider community is influenced by virtue of their position in their household.