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Women's Health

Although women generally have an easier way to live than men, the difference in women's health is not just limited to the way they approach their careers or engage in the world at large: it is also manifested in their daily lives. The United Nations defines gender inequality in terms of the "institutional factors causing it", highlighting factors that limit women's participation in decisions affecting their lives.

Institutional factors preventing women from participating fully in public life include the traditional gender role that men in society are expected to play, the role of men in decision making of society at large and the unequal nature of family life. The traditional role of women and children also contributes to the disadvantages faced by women in other areas.

A lack of equal citizenship rights, for example, prevents many women from holding their own public leadership positions in their communities, or from participating fully in politics that benefits women more than men. Women who enter politics and public life need to be educated in the "traditional ways" and "feminist ways" of politics, particularly in their social behaviour and appearance. Many women who do not fit the standard feminist picture of femininity, especially the stereotypical image of a mother in the home, do not consider themselves at risk in the political process because their status is not as high as men's. Consequently, they tend to be excluded from active political participation, because the only role for "women" that is considered to be relevant is the one that is a passive one. And, because of gender roles, this situation is much exacerbated in poor countries such as developing nations, where women are generally not expected to be active in the community. In addition, many developing countries are largely "house-mothers", living in homes with very few resources that are meant for the family.

Gender inequality also extends to economic participation and empowerment. As with previous analyses of gender inequality, the study of the income distribution of countries by gender helps to illuminate the extent to which individuals experience unequal outcomes in terms of income and opportunity. Countries are often grouped as developing or developed depending on the criteria used for classifying countries; however, in countries undergoing severe economic crises, or when most people are in temporary poverty, there may be no significant inequalities even when the economic environment is extremely unequal. In fact, the research evidence from the United Nations and other sources supports such conclusions.

The research shows that gender equality has not benefited women in every instance. In these situations, women are more likely to be unemployed than men. Women also face more discrimination as it is difficult to access a woman's only option as it is not generally a "feminist" option. For example, poor women in developing countries may not have access to contraceptives as well as those with means and connections. More than half of women's income is directly derived from work, and as work participation is increasingly reduced, there is a clear downward trend in the economic participation of women, especially in developing countries.

Women's health does not always intersect with other health indicators. In some high-income countries, health is more highly valued; other countries, such as the US, have seen declining female mortality rates and higher infant and child mortality rates with a higher emphasis on preventative health care, and greater health promotion. For this post I will focus on the development of healthcare, a primary focus of women's health in developing countries.

Healthcare and the gender divide

The health care system in developing countries is still largely non-communicable disease based. The majority of diseases in the developing world do not spread through the air; they need to be treated and taken care of in a public and private clinic setting. This is largely done through public insurance through a government-run health care system, which differs from private health insurance in many ways. Private insurance, however, is generally more comprehensive, covering a wide range of diseases, with limited government programs for coverage.

When it comes to healthcare, the health costs are borne largely by the individual; in many developing countries, the price of healthcare does not generally cover the total costs of treatment, which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

When a healthcare decision is made by an outsider or by a healthcare professional in a private practice, the cost of treatment is typically borne by the patient. For example, if I find myself in trouble with money while I am traveling, I might see a doctor at a local university where I am enrolled in a residency program, but I'm paying for my doctor and the fees associated with the private consultation. When the same thing happens when I am on a road trip of over twenty-five hours, it is much more difficult for an outsider to determine if it is worth the high cost of a private consult that will likely only cost several hundred dollars. The same thing applies if my doctor prescribes me a drug at a private clinic. An average household can expect to be overrepresented in the high-cost healthcare pool, a result of the poor health and lifestyle behaviors of many women.

Women in other developed countries tend to have a much more comprehensive private health insurance plan that covers all of the treatment, medications, and visits required for most of the disease burden. This generally entails higher deductibles, but has many advantages that do not apply to women in developing countries. For example, women in developed countries typically receive preventive care like checkups and flu shots, as well as immunizations, which is particularly important for the newly infected when their immune system is already compromised and it is only a matter of time before they are able to spread infections by a new virus, bacteria or parasite. This includes many women in developing countries who have previously been infected by HIV and Hepatitis C and have yet to be seen by a doctor before the potential spread of communicable diseases like AIDS.

Healthcare has a huge impact on women's lives.