I recently picked a book on health histories called Women in White Coats that documents how women had to disguise themselves as men to be doctors because this was too noble and intelligent an occupation for women ‘to handle’, or deserve.
Worse, it was common belief that women should go through pain, and so millions of women died of uterine cancer, endometriosis, period-linked complications, and hormonal inconsistencies.
Since women didn’t make patients, they were absent from research too, which meant that all medical breakthroughs were on the demands of a male body.
Women in the West broke down barriers in the field to become the first women doctors, revolutionising the way women received health care.
In India, back in 1870, it was Anandibai Joshi who knew she wanted to study medicine after her first child died when they were only 10 days old.
She herself was just 13 then. Her unflinching determination led her to pursue medical studies in America before she turned 20.
History is a daily reminder of how little has been done for women’s health and an even more stark reminder of how insignificant the efforts are towards women’s health outside of pregnancy.
I speak to hundreds of women and girls a month thanks to the 3 million strong community at SheThePeople.
One thing comes through very sharply – women are done being treated as second-rate citizens, especially when it comes to health, and are questioning why they must be viewed only as walking wombs.
We start and end women’s health with the notion of pregnancy.
Staying healthy, watching one’s sugar levels, preparing for peri-menopause, menopause, understanding one’s hormones, figuring that mental health can actually be hormonal – none of this is considered a priority even though it is fundamental.
Longstanding Challenges That Are Overlooked
Should women reach out to a health expert only when a disease is inevitable? Why are we not spending enough time on preventive health measures?
In a country with over 750 million females, this is a question we need to ask ourselves every single day.
Turns out not only do women not prioritise themselves but there is another problem – that of health experts that don’t deeply and truly understand female needs.
The more I spoke to women, the more I understood the fundamental challenges. “Doctors don’t listen to us,” one woman told me, sharing that her appointment, for which she paid Rs 800, was over in four minutes. “This happens to all women at your age” was the diagnosis.
It is clear that patient engagement and understanding women's specific needs is something that no one is focussing on.
Could Newer Platforms Break This Pattern?
Many women and most doctors are still figuring out a way to offer 360 degree care to women – realising that hormonal changes and fluctuations don’t just impact gynaec issues but emotional well-being, nutrition, hair, and more.
Unfortunately, the data, even today, shows that women’s healthcare needs are still by and large neglected. The good news is that platforms are emerging and things are changing.
The next few decades will belong to women’s health. The combination of technology – both as an enabler and for AI based breakthroughs – along with a mindset shift will move the needle forward.
As more women get aware, their need is access to health solutions. Virtual clinics are breaking down inequalities in women’s health and getting rid of the 'piece-meal' approach to health.
Women are tired of having to go to one platform for thyroid and another for hairfall, not realising the two can be deeply interlinked and require an end-to-end solution.
A recent survey shows that 94 percent working women from cities face a conflict of interest while balancing familial, health and professional obligations. 72 percent working women from Delhi have faced pressures associated with health. 60 percent said that PCOS was a result of work-related stress and that they ignored personal health.
Almost all women note that their male colleagues lack sensitivity towards women-related health issues.
Just consider that almost 60 percent of working women in India quit the workforce due to health related issues.
For a country wanting to become a $5 trillion economy in the next few years – how can we do with only half its population contributing to work?
The need for women’s health solutions is immediate. I am on a mission to fix this gender health gap and at our own platform, we are seeing over 45 percent consumer return for more services and products.
It’s important to make connections and help women find credible practitioners. As conversations change on social media, as women get to work, and start earning and making spending decisions, we are already seeing the first steps towards making health a priority.
This change is driven by putting ourself first, believing in ourselves beyond our reproductive self, and driving a new wave of thought driven by choice.
(Shaili Chopra is the founder of SheThePeopleTV and Gytree.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)