How did women's health get sidelined? Our Women's Health Project is here to find out

How did women’s health get sidelined? Our Women’s Health Project is here to find out

And we'll examine what's being done to change the story.
Women's Health Project

“I guess you could say it took me all of my life to be diagnosed. Pain is so normalised for women.”

This is the opening snippet of the Women’s Health Project, a new podcast series created by Women’s Agenda, that’s delving into the world of women’s health, exploring why and how issues specific to women have been overlooked and often dismissed in the medical sphere.

Those words are from entrepreneur Shivani Gopal, who explains that it took all of her adult life to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, despite her frequent and repeated efforts to get answers regarding her pain from medical professionals. The late diagnosis meant it was difficult for her to fall pregnant, and she had to put up with a whole lot of pain, for years and years. Unfortunately, her story isn’t unique, with many women all over the world having similar stories.

“How in the world could you compare your pain to another woman’s pain? We just know that we’re all in pain at some point and because of that, we are taught to just grin and bear it, to be resilient and to just push on,” Gopal continues.

In the first episode of the Women’s Health Project, released today and supported by Organon, Angela Priestley, who is the publisher and co-founder of Women’s Agenda, looks at the historical context of misogyny in healthcare and medical research – and the subsequent gender gap we have today.

The podcast will explore how and why women are so often overlooked in healthcare and medicine, something that was illuminated in the 2021 Australia Talks Survey, which found that 1 in 3 women have had their health concerns dismissed.

“I think the general community member would be surprised to know that many of the fundamentals about what we know about human biology and functioning is based on the 70-kilo white man. That is the default human,” Dr Amy Vassallo, research fellow at the Global Women’s Health program at the George Institute says.

Dr Vassallo says there is an assumption in health research that the 70-kilo white man is “reflective of all people”, and essentially, that’s what much of our health and medical knowledge is based on.

The Women’s Health Project podcast series will cover everything from heart disease, mental health, reproductive and maternal health, chronic illness and physical health issues, looking at how the gender gap in medicine and research has impacted women throughout history. It’ll also dive into some of the more positive developments in the women’s health space in recent years, and why things are (slowly) starting to change for the better.

The series will also explore how particular groups of women, especially women of colour, have been, and continue to be, more likely to be dismissed in the healthcare space. It’s an issue that was illuminated just weeks ago, when the World Health Organisation posthumously honoured Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose body was unduly “exploited for science”.

Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at the age of 31 in 1951 and was buried in an unmarked grave, but she played an integral role in some of modern medicine’s most significant developments. Her cells were collected without her knowledge or consent, and they led to multiple breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine, IVF treatment and the cervical cancer vaccine. It was only decades after her death that her family learnt just how vital Lacks’ cells have been to medical research.

Lacks’ story is just one of the many untold stories of women in the realm of health and medicine, but getting to know her name, as well as what happened to her, is significant in understanding women’s health more broadly.

It’s only been recently that we’ve started to come to terms with the gender gap in health but its history goes back a long way — back to Ancient Greece, actually — so let’s take the time to learn more about it so we can improve outcomes for women everywhere.

The first episode of the Women’s Health Project podcast series is out today, you can listen and subscribe on your favourite podcast app.

This podcast is independently created by Women’s Agenda and proudly sponsored by Organon, a pharmaceutical company dedicated to a better and healthier every day for every woman. Women’s Agenda is published by Agenda Media, a 100% female-owned and run media company.

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