By Ellen Hershkin
“Self-care” is the buzzword of the moment for women, but what does it really mean when women’s health disparities in America have elicited a growing alarm among the public and policymakers?
Women need real tools to help navigate their own health, from education to apps to community resources. But the burden and responsibility shouldn’t fall only on them. “Self-care” isn’t a trend, but a proven combination of patient and clinician-driven practices. Health is not just about treating disease, but about living life optimally.
There are so many ways we can improve and uplift women’s health as a society: from turning around the dismal American maternal mortality rates (the worst in the developed world), to spreading the message that heart attack symptoms in women are often overlooked compared to those in men. During this National Women’s Health Week we must embrace a comprehensive vision for moving forward on a personal and structural level.
What is needed is a combination of solutions: the time and ability to exercise and eat healthier combined with ongoing education about women’s unique health issues. In addition, a holistic approach from the medical establishment that goes beyond regular well-woman visits, preventative testing and counseling is also required. All this, when put together, will empower women to live up to this week’s theme: “Find Your Health.”
To achieve this vision, we must address how presumed gender roles impact our everyday lives. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “women in the United States make approximately 80% of the health care decisions for their families.” Women are often the CEOs of their families’ health, keeping track of appointments, medication and the general well-being of spouses, children, and elderly or infirm relatives. These responsibilities often don’t leave women enough time for genuine self-care and self-monitoring.
As economist Caroline Criado-Perez writes in her new book, "Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men," a “male norm” persists in everything from seat belts to cancer studies. Women walk through a world that’s simply not engineered for them. Many patients of all genders go through a siloed medical system focusing on individual symptoms rather than holistic care.
Hadassah is committed to making that totality of care a reality for as many women as possible, by demonstrating quality practices in our own health centers in Israel in addition to spreading the word in our education campaigns and advocating for policy changes here in the U.S.
Hadassah founded the Coalition for Women’s Health Equity in 2016 to address inequities in prevention, research, access and quality of care, funding and support. Our 28 coalition members are all working in their own ways to further this vision. Together, we are committed to improving women’s health outcomes – through stakeholder collaboration, public education and legislative advocacy.
Ellen Hershkin is national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.