Part of why international development is so complex is the intricate intertwining of various seemingly separate facets - from gender equality to healthcare to education to climate justice, every part is only a small fraction of a greater whole. However, this intersectionality can also be beneficial, as targeting one facet can lead to progress in another. One such example is the achievement of gender equality through access to healthcare.
In many parts of the world, a lack of access to healthcare has presented itself in the form of low quality reproductive healthcare. Services such as antenatal care throughout pregnancy or immunizations to prevent maternal and neonatal tetanus are often either physically or financially unavailable. Additionally, in many countries, barriers such as obtaining permission to go to the doctor or obtaining money to pay for treatments makes it extremely difficult or even impossible for women and girls to access the services that keep them in good health. Without these services, these essential members of the community are often forced to drop out of schooling, carry out unplanned pregnancies, and ultimately put their social and economic lives on hold.
In the Global North, equal access to healthcare is seen as a right given by the law. Nevertheless, throughout history, women’s experiences have been overlooked or discounted. This has caused diseases that disproportionately affect women - for example, autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and many chronic pain conditions - to be under-researched. Doctors can not recognize and treat a disease they do not know of, causing women with these conditions to be left undiagnosed and untreated. Furthermore, long-term care issues tend to affect women more often than men as women have higher life expectancies, higher rates of disability and chronic health problems, and lower average incomes than men. When women are able to access the healthcare they need, they are able to study more effectively, work harder, and function at their greatest potential.
To achieve equal access to healthcare, the female health workforce - from nurses to doctors to birth attendants - must be allowed to participate in leadership and decision-making, access formal employment, make a fair wage, and work in a place free from physical and sexual violence. While the distribution of technologies and medicine is important in making change, the fastest and most effective way to ensure equality is with the equal and unbiased distribution of leadership roles. As we can see from recent laws implemented in the United States, men are often not the most qualified to make decisions about pregnant bodies - women know women best, and it is with representation in leadership positions that we will address the problems that plague healthcare systems around the world.
Health is at the core of all human activity, but lack of access to healthcare is an issue that disproportionately affects women. By providing equal and unbiased care, one of the many threads in the tapestry we call gender equality will be woven.