X Close



UCL events news and reviews


Is gender making us sick

By news editor, on 2 July 2013

pencil-icon Written by James Smiths, Global Health & Development MSc student at the UCL Institute for Global Health

At a recent symposium, Dr Sarah Hawkes, co-author of the recent ‘Gender and global health: evidence, policy, and inconvenient truths’, presented a compelling argument that gender is a significant, yet misunderstood, determinant of health.


Dr Jenny Parkes (Institute of Education) and
Dr Julian Walker (UCL Bartlett Development Planning Unit)

It is well known that health disparities exist between men and women. A quick glance at the latest World Health Organisation figures reveals that only three countries report a higher life expectancy for men than for women: Qatar, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Other high-profile research such as the 2012 Global Burden of Disease study identified that the most common diseases disproportionately affect men.

In order to avoid confusion, the panelists and members of the audience were quick to note that health programmes focusing on women and girls clearly play an important role, in light of the significant impact that gender inequalities have on girls and women.

However, these programmes are complementary to, but not fully representative of, efforts to promote gender equity in health.

While there seemed to be a general consensus that embedded gender norms affect the health of both men and women, it seems that key global actors have either misinterpreted or neglected the need to implement gender-sensitive programmes.

For some of the leading global health actors, gender remains synonymous with women, while others were branded ‘gender blind’; any mention of gender was absent from major organisational policy documents.

In light of this, what can be done?

A diverse audience of experts, staff, and students made it clear that they were prepared to engage with the debate, and a rich and varied Q&A ensued.

A clear need emerged to address the root causes of the gender inequitable disease burden by better targeting evidence-based global health policies, and by controlling exploitative commercial interests.

This point was succinctly made with a slideshow of gender-targeted advertisements for cigarettes, alcohol and cars, to which the audience responded with laughter and surprise at the brazen absurdity of some of the gender stereotypes on display.

It seems that the ageing adage ‘health for all’ remains as relevant now as ever. High-quality, evidence-based global policies and programmes must follow.

Leave a Reply