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European Gender Equality Week: Isn’t it time women’s health and well-being were prioritised?

Future of Europe / EPC FLASH ANALYSIS
Elizabeth Kuiper , Danielle Brady

Date: 26/10/0023
This week is European Gender Equality Week, the theme of which is “Gender Equality: What's next?" The looming European Parliamentary elections amplify the significance of such questions. Ursula von der Leyen, during her State of the Union address, reflected on the achievements of the current Commission regarding gender equality with the conclusion of files including the Women on Boards Directive, the accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention, and the Pay Transparency Directive. However, this was followed with the caveat that “our work is far from over, and we must continue pushing for progress together".

The EU’s focus must remain on driving further progress, considering gender equality is still an aspiration. This is true regarding women’s health, which remains an unfinished agenda with unmet needs and gaps. In this context, the launch of the Women’s Health Interest Group at the European Parliament is most welcome. It signifies the importance of elevating political focus on women’s health to diminish existing gaps and obstacles.

Furthermore, the European Institute of Women’s Health is calling for a strategy for women’s health with defined targets, monitoring, and evaluation. The success of initiatives under the current Commission should pave the way for further efforts to tackle gender equality in all facets of society. This must include health, which is inseparable from other disparities, including the gender pay and pension gap, gender violence, and gender gaps in innovation and research.

Inequalities are often a result of a complex interplay between biological distinctions and social determinants. Social determinants of health create barriers to access, prevention, and treatment, amplifying health disparities between genders.

Healthcare systems have primarily been shaped by data collected from men, excluding women from clinical trials. In addition, women have been systematically overlooked and underrepresented, leading to a lack of knowledge about conditions that affect women. Women's health is often narrowly viewed, and many conditions affecting both genders are not studied from a sex-specific perspective. Many conditions associated with reproductive health lack research and treatment. Although there have been improvements, women remain underrepresented in clinical research, and even when included, data is often not analysed by sex. These data gaps result in a fundamental lack of understanding of how sex influences disease prevalence and progression, leading to significant health inequalities.

Women's health is an overarching concern that intersects with various policies and matters spanning all sectors of society. As we approach the European elections, the new Commission mandate and the Council’s forthcoming strategic agenda, gender equality must continue to be a focus, particularly in health. Women account for 51% of the EU’s population, so isn’t it time the health and well-being of over half the population are prioritised?

Danielle Brady is a Policy Analyst in the Social Europe and Well-being programme at the European Policy Centre.

Elizabeth Kuiper is an Associate Director and Head of the Social Europe and Well-Being programme at the European Policy Centre.

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