What Does Gender Inequity in Health Mean?

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Gender is the sex-role identity used by humans to emphasise the distinction between males and females.1 Being born male or female, in a given culture, leads one to acquire and adopt the distinct roles, duties, rights and values that particular culture considers appropriate to ones sex.2 These gender differences can sometimes be discriminatory, empowering one gender to the detriment of the other resulting in inequities in areas such as finance, education, politics and health.3 Gender inequity in relation to health therefore does not look at unequal mortality rates between males and female, but rather, the unnecessary, avoidable and often unjust gender differences that lead to discrepancies in health status and the accessibility to essential health care.4 A prime example of how gender differences can result in inequities that may adversely affect the health of one gender group is the situation of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.5 Current data from UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) shows that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for over 75% of the 37 million HIV/AIDS cases world wide.5 This means that over 28 million Africans are currently infected with HIV/AIDS, almost 60% of whom are women.6 In certain countries in Africa including Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the disparity is even more apparent where the ratio between girls and boys of the ages 15 to 19 infected with HIV/AIDS is 6:1.5 These discrepancies can be attributed to two things, to a small degree, the physiology of the female reproductive makes her more susceptible to infection, but more importantly, due to the gender inequities which arose as a result of social upbringing, stereotypical roles, poverty and stigma.7 From an early age, African women have been taught to be obedient and submissive to the men around them.5 The African woman is expected to please her
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