Sexual and Reproductive Life of Women: Gender Equality in Women's Reproductive Health in Western Europe and the US

Article excerpt

Summary

Gender equality in the sexual and reproductive life of women is an ongoing issue. Male interests, attitudes and beliefs still have a tremendous impact on the lives of females. On the one hand, methodological aspects in research play a crucial role in reaching equality in all aspects of women's life and reproductive health, on the other hand, reproductive rights encompassing the right to reproductive health care and the right to reproductive self-determination are a matter for society at large. Within the context of the male-centeredness of research on women's reproductive health, the issues of abortion, contraception, sex education, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS were discussed and scrutinized.

Key words: Gender Equality, Reproductive Health, Abortion, Contraception, Sex Education, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV/AIDS

Is there Gender Equality in Women's Reproductive Health?

A majority of factors related to women's health, including their access to and utilization of health care services, the quality of the health care available to them, and public policies related to health care, are significantly shaped by the social and political status of women (Travis, 1993). Some health conditions, such as osteoporosis and eating disorders, disproportionately affect women as compared to men, whereas other health concerns, such as hysterectomy and menstruation, are unique to women (Yoder, 1999).

The androcentric assumption that men's bodies are normative permeates the field and leads to a range of biases in health research and health care. The most prominent biases are (1) gendercentricity (androcentricity/gynocentricity), (2) overgeneraliztion/overspecificity, (3) gender insensitivity, and (4) double standards (Basow, 2001; Hyde & Mezulis, 2001; Legato, 2002; Eichler, 1991, 1997, 1998; Caplan & Caplan, 1994; Rabinowitz & Sechzer, 1993).

Gendercentricity

In the area of health, male centeredness (androcentricity) is the value set of our dominant culture. Male behavior serves as a standard, and women's behaviors are considered as deviations from what "normal" individuals (i.e., men) do (Basow, 2001). Until now, no explicit model or theory exists relating to "women's health"; the healthy individual is the healthy male, and the healthy female differs from this norm (Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson, Rosenkrantz & Vogel, 1970; Legato, 2002). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or injury" (World Health Organization, 1948). This definition emphasizes social conditions, which still differ for women and men in most cultures around the world. Furthermore, positively valued abilities, behaviors and traits - such as intelligence, spatial and mathematical abilities, and independence (Caplan & Caplan, 1994; Halpern, 2001; Hamilton, 2001) - are usually regarded as the domain of males. The "prestigious" diseases, such as coronary heart disease, are typically discussed and considered from the male perspective (Shumaker & Smith, 1995; Legato, 2002). In contrast, several negative conditions are typically regarded as occurring almost exclusively in females. These mental disorders and physical problems include eating disorders, depression, and psychosomatic disorders. This designation is in line with the "women-as-problem" bias that Dr. Matlin mentions in her paper in this volume (Matlin, 2000, 2003; Franke & Kammerer, 2001).

Overgeneralization/Overspecificity

Ordinarily, men's experience tends to be seen as the appropriate basis for making general statements about practically anything but the family, whereas women's experience is seen as relating only to certain aspects of family life and reproduction. These overgeneralizations of the "healthy male as norm" and of certain illnesses as "female diseases" have led to contradictory conclusions based on a biased research focus. …