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Medical misogyny



BY CAPTAIN STAR CONLIFFE*

 

Last year, I had a hysterectomy, and it changed my life. This was not a decision I took lightly, but after years of trying everything to manage chronic pain, which regularly left me bedridden, I accepted that this was the only effective treatment option left. I was incredibly lucky to have a supportive general practitioner (GP) and a gynaecologist who took my pain seriously and scheduled the surgery as soon as I was ready.

 

It still feels like such a gift to wake up every day without pain. The surgery has improved my quality of life and improved my relationship with my body. However, I am acutely aware that many women cannot access the healthcare they need, either because of a lack of services or because of medical misogyny. There is now growing evidence of what women have been saying for decades – there are systemic problems around the world in medical research and how healthcare is delivered, which means that women suffer poorer health outcomes than men.

 

Poorer health outcomes

Medical misogyny means that women’s pain is ignored, they are not believed about their symptoms, or they are infantilised and are not permitted to make decisions about their bodies. Consequently, women experience higher rates of delayed diagnosis, overprescribing of anti-depressants, and failures to properly investigate symptoms.

 

Just one example of medical misogyny is the exclusion of women from drug trials until the 1990s. Scientists testing drugs did not want to account for hormonal and other biological differences between men and women, so only male test subjects were used. Drugs that were never tested on women’s bodies are still prescribed to them with higher rates of side effects than in men. More evidence is the fact that women suffering serious heart attacks are half as likely to get proper treatment and twice as likely to die than men. Women’s symptoms are different to men’s but sometimes they are not believed. This is why it still takes longer for girls to be diagnosed with ADHD (and some other conditions) and 7-10 years for women to get diagnosed with endometriosis. Medical misogyny can lead to serious suffering for women, and sometimes even death.

 

I’ve had my own fair share of bad experiences in the healthcare system, including not being believed, being misdiagnosed, and having treatment refused. Each time it seriously impacted my quality of life. Migrant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and people who don’t fit into gender norms face even more barriers to being heard by medical professionals. I am also living proof that good healthcare improves women’s lives. In turn, it also improves women’s families’ and communities’ outcomes.

 

Keep up the conversation

Around the world, The Salvation Army has been working for decades to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need. There are Salvation Army women’s healthcare clinics and midwifery schools in many countries, including a maternal and child health centre in Balga, Western Australia. In Melbourne, there is a special women’s residential rehabilitation centre that allows mothers to bring their children with them so they can get the healthcare they need. It’s also exciting to see governments listening to stories like mine and working to resolve medical misogyny in public health. In Victoria, the government has recently opened publicly funded endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics, which will help hundreds of women each year.

 

This International Women’s Day and International Women’s Health Day (28 May), I’m celebrating that women’s health is finally on the agenda. Let’s keep the conversation about women’s experiences in the healthcare system going in our homes, schools and workplaces. Only then will women be able to access healthcare without discrimination.


*Captain Star Conliffe is the Corps Officer at Hobsons Bay Corps in Victoria


 

For more information:

 

 

Editor’s Choice – Impact of initial hospital diagnosis on mortality for acute myocardial infarction: A national cohort study | European Heart Journal. Acute Cardiovascular Care | Oxford Academic (oup.com)


 


Go to the MySalvos toolkit here  for International Women’s Day resources

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