Accelerating gender equality through healthcare

Enabling greater healthcare access for women is vital for equality in broader society. This year’s G20 themes address several crucial gendered issues: safeguarding girls’ education, tackling violence against women, and the digital future.

Female-specific health conditions include contraception, fertility, maternal health, menopause, gynecology, women’s oncology (breast, ovarian and cervical cancer), and gynecological infections. But, as Wibowo stressed in her address, women’s health must be defined more broadly than reproduction.

The point was made that men’s and women’s bodies are programmed differently, and that these variations affect disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. General health conditions affect women differently (cardiovascular disease) or disproportionately (autoimmune diseases, migraines, osteoporosis); for some conditions, the differences are unknown or not sufficiently studied. There is also often a gender bias in care delivery, for example in pain management and mental-health care.

Historically, these specific gendered needs have often received insufficient attention. Today, only one percent of healthcare research and innovation is invested in female-specific conditions beyond oncology (Exhibit 1).

Approximately one percent of healthcare research and innovation is invested in female-specific conditions beyond oncology.
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Given these deficiencies, there is a range of ways in which FemTech—technology-enabled, consumer-centric products and solutions, directed at women’s needs—could disrupt women’s healthcare. Breakthroughs are possible in various areas: improving care delivery; enabling self-care; improving diagnoses; addressing stigmatized areas; and delivering culturally sensitive and tailored care. FemTech has boomed over the last decade, with start ups proliferating and funding increasing exponentially.

These potentials will be examined in further W20 and G20 discussions. Two specific aspects of women’s healthcare might productively be considered by the working group when shaping G20 recommendations, Wibowo suggested:

  • The allocation of resources to a broader range of female conditions, including maternal health, endometriosis, and menopause.
  • Increased female representation among researchers, inventors, investors, and business founders, enabling the creation of products and solutions that recognize and target women’s specific healthcare needs.

Women’s health contributes significantly to stronger, healthier societies. Because women are also caretakers, better outcomes in women’s health have cascading benefits for groups such as children and the elderly.

Affecting 50 percent of the world’s population, women’s health is hardly a niche issue, Wibowo emphasized. This urgent topic represents an enormous opportunity for the W20 to create value, and improve the lives and livelihoods of billions around the world.

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