Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on equalities, writes about how we need to address gender based health inequalities for the good of our health service
This article appeared in the Western Mail on Monday 20 November 2023
I was recently invited on to a panel to speak about women’s health in the workplace. As a woman who works in one of the most prominent workplaces in Wales, not only was I was really pleased to be given this opportunity, I was very interested to find out what the experience is like for other women across Wales.
Along with 200 other attendees, I listened in horror as we learnt that 1 in 4 people who experience events that can be part of every women’s life - fertility issues, baby loss, menstruation or menopause- have considered leaving – or have left – their jobs.
As a way of raising awareness, three ‘lucky’ volunteers got to wear a “Meno Vest” to simulate symptoms of menopause for the wearer. Quarter of an hour in, and they were really struggling. We all laughed, but at the same time, we were uncomfortably aware that this will be the experience for most of the people in the room at some point in their lives.
Together, we looked at what policies could be put place that allow people to manage their work around what they’re experiencing – such as flexing time around medical appointments, or around times of the month that symptoms are too hard to cope with. We also noted that some workplaces simply don’t have the facilities that would allow people to be more comfortable – whether that’s access to fresh, cool air, or something as simple as having a toilet cubicle with a sink in it.
It’s not just issues typically associated only with women, there are also startling differences between women and men when it comes to health care and health outcomes. In fact, in their Feminist Scorecard Report for 2022, the Women’s Equality Network Wales scored Wales red! They found that women’s health issues continue to be misdiagnosed or dismissed due to unconscious bias and normalisation of symptoms associated with things like menopause and menstruation, such as hot flushes and pelvic pain. The result is late diagnosis, which often results in the person having to take more time off ill.
What struck me was that there are certain professions that are still largely dominated by women – such as in our health and care service – and we’re in a climate where we can ill afford to lose more workers from this critically important sector. It’s not only vital that this health inequality is addressed for the good of the women in those professionals, but for the future of our health and care service too.