On International Women’s Day 2022 it is a shocking fact that the UK has the biggest gender health gap of all the G20 countries. While women in the UK live longer than men on average, we spend a greater proportion of our lives in ill health and face a gaping chasm when it comes to equal access to healthcare.

There are countless examples of the gender health gap from every age and stage of women’s lives.  From the lack of understanding of conditions that mainly affect women, meaning it takes eight years on average to get an endometriosis diagnosis, to women in acute pain being less likely to be prescribed strong pain medicines than men. And the fact that women in the UK with dementia have fewer visits to the GP, receive less health monitoring and take more sedatives or anti-psychotics than men with dementia.

Gender inequality damages the physical and mental health of girls and women and the gender gap is even wider for some. The barriers faced by women from minority ethnic groups, those from LGBTQ+ communities, and women living with disabilities go deep. In the UK black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and South Asians have 40% higher death rates from coronary heart disease.

Last year’s consultation on the first government-led Women’s Health Strategy received more than 100,000 responses, which unsurprisingly revealed that women do not feel heard in the UK health system. The publication of the long-awaited Women’s Health Strategy, due in the spring, will look at women’s health across ages, with six areas of focus: 1. menstrual health and gynaecological conditions; 2. fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support; 3. the menopause; 4. healthy ageing and long term conditions; 5. mental health; and 6. the health impact of violence against women and girls.

There is much work to be done to unpick years of gender health inequality. System-wide changes are needed to improve women’s experiences of healthcare, access to services and health outcomes. Healthcare communications have a fundamental role to play as part of this:

  • VOICES AND CHOICES: Making sure that women’s perspectives are taken into account in designing and delivering health research, treatments and services.
  • LANGUAGE MATTERS: Recognising that the language we use to talk about health impacts the care we receive – while men’s health is often discussed neutrally or positively, there is a communication taboo around women’s health and bodies that must be actively addressed.
  • UNDERSTANDING OUR BODIES: Empowering women to better understand their bodies, and helping women to stand up and advocate for their needs when it comes to healthcare.
  • VALUING WOMEN’S WELLBEING: Promoting a world in which women’s health and wellbeing are recognised and truly valued.

On International Women’s Day 2022 it is a shocking fact that women in Ukraine are being forced to give birth in underground stations, with no access to critical maternal healthcare, and that women, men and children are facing unacceptable violence. This International Women’s Day we call for equality in healthcare and peace.