women’s health care is still far from fairness: prejudices, taboos and sexism remain omnipresent in medicine, with ripple effects on all aspects of a woman’s life.
But there was a pervasive note of optimism to WIRED Health last week during a panel on the future of health care for women. Taboos are broken, especially around topics like menstruation, menopause and women’s bodies. “There’s a sea change going on right now,” says Jennifer Garrison, co-founder and director of the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality at the Buck Institute in California.
Change starts with better education about women’s health, says Geeta Nargund, founder and medical director of Create Fertility, a UK IVF service. Things are starting to look up: in the UK, specific education on women’s health will be compulsory for medical students from 2024.
A clear need is to revamp the way the medical field thinks and talks about menopause and how it is treated. “Going through menopause is one of the most dramatic things that can happen to a healthy woman’s body,” Garrison says. Yet we view menopause as a single snapshot in a woman’s life, rather than a medical transition that spans several years, with many health effects.
And the realities of a woman’s body should not interfere with her professional trajectory, as they do today. “When women’s health is so underserved, it ultimately creates gender imbalances at the top of corporations,” says Kate Ryder, CEO of Maven Clinic, the largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health. That’s where her company fits in: Maven Clinic helps companies retain talent by improving health outcomes and reducing maternity and fertility costs for employees.
Despite signs of progress, there is still a mountain of work to be done. “We need to start thinking about the female body as a whole, instead of addressing one organ system at a time,” Garrison says. But getting there will require more funding and attention. “There’s just a complete lack of data,” Garrison says. “So we don’t understand the most basic things about what’s going on with women’s health.”