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Advocating for Women’s Health/Big Picture of Women’s Health

(A version of this article has been published in an online magazine Namaste Switzerland)

Venus Vs Mars (in health)

As a woman, I have often wondered why the masks are always too big for my face or my cell phone is always too large for my hand.

Why is that? The answer might surprise you, most of these things are designed by men with the male perspective in mind.

Women are not "smaller men". Mentally, physically and biologically, men and women are not the same. So why should one size fit all.

Apart from the glaring differences in everyday life, gender differences have also

not been accounted for in medicine as well as scientific research where again the male perspective is the norm.

As Caroline Criado-Pérez points out in her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,

“The result of this deeply male-dominated culture is that the male experience, the male perspective, has come to be seen as universal, while the female experience--that of half the global population, after all--is seen as, well, niche.”

Where did it all start?

For centuries, in Western Europe, medical professionals diagnosed women with so-called hysteria, an alleged mental health condition when they did not understand or were uncomfortable discussing their symptoms. These symptoms could include anything from anxiety and shortness of breath to loss of appetite. In reality, women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from mental illness.

To add to this, there is an outdated idea of “bikini medicine”, that women’s health issues only have to do with their reproductive health. This theory was refuted by a study that showed that conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases affect men and women differently. So, even in conditions that affected both genders at similar rates, it could go undiagnosed in women since the symptoms can be different.

For example, the symptoms of heart attacks are different between men and women and pain affects women differently than men.

Even pills don’t behave the same in men and women

Medicines react differently in men and women. In the early 1960s, there was a tragedy with specific drug usage by pregnant women. This resulted in women in general being excluded from drug trials until 1993. So, the effects of a lot of them have not been carefully studied in women. This led to medicines having only been studied on men thereby excluding the effect of hormones and their effect on the medication or the disease that they are treating.

Even drugs made for women have sometimes only been tested on men. In a famous study of the interaction between alcohol and flibanserin – also known as ‘female Viagra’ – 23 of the 25 study participants were male. 😯

What needs to be done?

While these problems and realization have led to certain policy changes (including in drug trials), this is not enough. To empower women, we need to participate at different levels to bring about systemic changes. We need to have a higher representation of women across the board, in education, in leadership as CEOs of businesses, as healthcare workers, etc. As Maya Angelou said “I'm interested in women's health because I'm a woman. I'd be a darn fool not to be on my own side.”

Due to the situation, a new space in healthcare called FemTech has emerged. Here, technology in the form of products and services catered specifically to women are being developed.

According to a McKinsey report in 2022, FemTech is powered to a significant extent by female entrepreneurs—more than 70 percent of FemTech companies analyzed had at least one female founder, compared with a 20 percent norm for new companies. Research has shown that when inventors set out to solve a health problem, male inventors are more likely to solve a male-oriented condition; women-led teams solve both.

What can women do today? How can we as women empower ourselves?

When it comes to our health and wellness, firstly we must start prioritizing ourselves.

  • Track your health and your symptoms, using a period tracker is a great place to start. In fact, periods have been considered a fifth vital sign.

  • Be vocal (about your symptoms, your pain), don’t be embarrassed to talk about your symptoms.

  • Be your own (health) advocate.

  • Listen to your body, trust your instincts

  • Get a second or even a third opinion

  • Get fact-based information about the different facets of your health

  • Get the men in your life involved in this mission by having open discussions about your health with them.

As Michelle Obama rightly said, “ We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own `to-do` list“


This article is written by Miyara co-founder Sanjana Rao, PhD

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