Gender equality in health, a realistic aim?, By Nitya Sarma

22 June 2015

Currently, there are some major inequalities when it comes to gender. Women account for less than a quarter of board members in the workforce, while they make up almost half of the employed workforce. It is a known fact that equality in gender is a basic fundamental human right, however, gender pay gaps in the workforce still exist.[1] Women are more subject to violence and harm, and feel less safe on a day-to-day basis than men. The European Parliament is taking steps towards making a much needed change in ensuring all EU citizens can enjoy their rights.

Gender inequality in the EU means that women are more likely to experience poverty than men. This means that single parents are also more prone to this, and single mothers would be more likely face unemployment. Although women tend to live longer, they suffer from more unhealthy life years; this means they are sick more, especially at later life stages. Middle aged women tend to have higher chances of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Diabetes in women has an impact on health during pregnancies, it is associated with a higher mortality rate due to coronary heart disease. Incidences of cancer in women are increasing in recent years. Osteoporosis has a large economic burden, and is most commonly diagnosed in women. With such a high tendency for women to get diseases, women require to have the economic stability to take care of themselves later in life. Lower pay and lower pension makes this challenging.[2]

On June 9 2015, the European Parliament plenary adopted its post-2015 gender equality strategy with 341 votes in favour and 281 against, and 81 abstentions. The key aim for Members of European Parliament (MEPs) was to achieve real gender equality in Europe. MEPs called on the European Commission to ratify the Istanbul convention[3]. This was done by proposing new laws to protect women from different forms of violence, and to encourage programmes to exit from prostitution, balancing family and working life in terms of increasing female employment rates, maternity, paternity and parental leave and affordable child-care services. Laws such as placing a quota for women to ensure there are more women in top positions, and improving accessibility to services in terms of health and education were proposed.[4]

Indirectly, the introduction of these proposed laws would improve health equality for women in the EU. After the implementation of these laws, more women might be fortunate enough to work at top level positions.  With the gender pay gap closing, and women being valued just as men are in the workforce, these changes will allow them a better pay, and therefore an increased ability to take care of their health needs. There will be a reduced occurrence of women being subject to violence, meaning less women will be physically and mentally affected, improving the overall health of women.[5]

Despite these very necessary changes that women are entitled to, a few problems still remain. The treatment of pregnant women is generally unfair; they are often discriminated against. Pregnant women have been known to have experienced the denial of training opportunities and changes in their job descriptions.[6] With the increase in the average age of the European population to 65+, several female employees may find it necessary to take work leave, as a result of society’s belief that it is women who should be taking care of their elderly family members. These social injustices may lead to stress and poorer health for pregnant women, and women taking care of their elderly family members.

The big question is how can gender inequality in health be eliminated? How can the EU reach a point where women are absolutely equal to men in all respects? At the root of it, the issue arises at a mentality level where society views women a certain way, as a softer figure, in some ways incapable of being equal to men. To change the mentality of an entire generation is a heavy task; although taking small steps to ensure women are more equal to men is an amicable start. With the implementation of laws proposed by MEPs, hopefully Europe will be a healthier and happier place for women to work.


[1] “Report of equality between men and women 2014” European Commission: 5-33 Here

[2] “The engender project: policy brief #3” ENGENDER. Here

[3] See Here.

[4] “Gender equality strategy: MEPs call for clearer targets and better monitoring”  European Parliament News, June 6 2015, accessed June 12 2015 - Here

[5]“Report on the EU strategy for equality men and women post 2015” European Parliament - Here

[6] “Research highlights discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace,” - Here