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Gender pain gap: ‘Sinister’ issue killing Australian women

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Women are at greater risk of severe health complications because of what’s been dubbed the “gender pain gap” – an issue that often leaves them under-diagnosed and under-treated, and one that the Federal Government has vowed to fight.

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney, will lead the newly-developed National Women’s Health Advisory Council, set to examine women’s biological risk factors for major diseases like cancer and heart disease, disorders such as autism, and other overlooked or dismissed conditions like endometriosis.

“It is completely unacceptable that a young girl suffers ADHD symptoms without diagnosis for potentially years longer than a boy her age. Or a woman has her crippling pelvis pain repeatedly dismissed, only to find severe endometriosis,” Ms Kearney, who will consult with women’s health experts, organisations, and medical and professional bodies, said.

“In Australia, no one should fall through the cracks when it comes to safe, high quality and affordable health care. It’s happening too often for women and we need to find effective ways to address the problem.

“Women and girls deserve tailored and targeted healthcare that recognises and reflects their experiences and concerns.”

The announcement of the Council comes off the back of pharmaceutical brand Nurofen’s recently released ‘Gender Pain Gap’ report, which found that one-in-two women who sought healthcare for pain were either ignored or dismissed because of their gender.

It’s a phenomenon known as ‘medical misogyny’ – the hashtag of which has drummed up over 4.5 million views on TikTok.

As The Guardian’s Gabrielle Jackson explained in a segment on The Project on Sunday night, “medical misogyny doesn’t mean that doctors are sexist”.

“It means there is a historic gap in knowledge about women’s health and women’s bodies,” Jackson, who is the author of Pain and Prejudice: How the Medical System Ignores Women – and What We Can Do About It, said.

After breaking down the Nurofen report in a video last week, Deputy Managing Director of Future Women, Jamila Rizvi, told the program she’d been “absolutely overwhelmed by hundreds and hundreds of women sharing their experiences about [the gender pain gap] with me online”.

Rizvi, who lives with a recurring brain tumour that was diagnosed when she skipped two periods, said that while her “experience of the health system has been an incredibly fortunate one … down the track I came to understand that that is actually quite uncommon for women”.

“If you present to a doctor with an experience that has something to do with your menstrual cycle, especially if you’re a young woman, you’re dismissed as stressed, bothered, you need to eat more regularly,” she added.

“A lot of women are told, ‘If you have a baby, you’ll sort it out’. What is going on is something quite sinister.”

The gender pain gap is borne from “that misogyny that tells us when women say they’re in pain, they’re taken less seriously”, Rizvi said.

“The result is there’s particular conditions – endometriosis is one of them, that have gone undiagnosed for decades and decades because women have been told that ‘everyone gets period pain, get on with it’,” she said.

“Women’s pain is something we don’t know a lot about. Not as much research goes into it. But there has been increasing information in this space that says yes, women feel pain, they experience pain in a different way and it feels more severe.

“When you next think of a woman in your life is perhaps just overblowing it a bit, actually she’s probably feeling that pain more than the average man would. So, she is struggling. It does hurt. It is hard.”

Referring to Labor’s Council, Rizvi called it “ a really good start”.

“The fact that we’re focusing on women’s health as a particular branch of medicine, not just at the medical level but at the policymaking level, is absolutely critical,” she said.

“I’ll be watching this really carefully. I’m interested to see the data and the experiences that come out of it.

“I think there will be a lot of women, like the women who contacted me on social media, who are ready and willing to share their stories to try and make it better for others.”

Members of the National Women’s Health Advisory Council will each serve an initial three-year term and provide policy advice directly to the government.

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