A 2019 Oliver Wyman report found that in our society, women make 80% of healthcare buying and usage decisions, but only 30% of C-suite positions and 13% of CEO positions are held by women. With the lack of female leadership in healthcare, it’s not surprising that the experiences of women have been overlooked or disregarded throughout history, especially when it comes to our health. It’s no secret that gender inequality pervades even the most influential spheres -- in fact, women make up less than 30% of Congress and we have yet to see a woman occupy the Oval Office. But how drastically is the lack of female leadership affecting our health? A recent study has shown that the power structures we live in may be affecting our risk for chronic disease more than we think.
Despite having a higher life expectancy, women tend to experience worse health in general throughout their lives. Additionally, years of research have indicated that one’s social environment can have a profound impact on one’s health, and that societies with greater social disparities, particularly gender inequity, tend to have poorer health outcomes. A recent study conducted within the Mosuo community in China revealed that women in matrilineal societies, who often have more autonomy, tend to have better health outcomes overall. More specifically, the study results demonstrated that women in matrilineal societies are less likely to develop chronic disease. Researchers compared markers of chronic disease, including inflammation levels and hypertension, between matrilineal and patrilineal Mosuo communities in China. Researchers found that in matrilineal societies, women had lower levels of hypertension and chronic inflammation when compared to the patrilineal societies. The results also suggested that women having more power within matrilineal societies has no correlated detrimental effects on the health of men in their communities. Researchers suggested that the gender norms that exist in patrilineal societies are preventing women from receiving adequate social support and autonomy, thus increasing their risk of developing chronic disease. In essence, women having the same access to power and autonomy as men is healthier for everyone.
This study shows just how impactful the power structures we live in can be to our health, and highlights the importance of continuing to fight for gender equity in our society. Centering womxn’s voices and giving womxn more autonomy when it comes to health & wellness is an integral part of the LILAS mission. We hope that with education and a concerted effort to uplift the women around us, we can build a more equitable future in healthcare and beyond. Because as recent research is showing us, gender inequality is quite literally hindering our well-being and the well-being of our communities .