Health; the state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of a person and not merely the absence of disease or ailment. Surviving the past three years has been no mean feat for anyone; whether man or woman. The UN Women’s newest report however, reveals that women and girls have disproportionately suffered the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 – be it through lost jobs and reduced work hours, increased intensity of care and domestic work, and strains on their physical and mental health. With this in mind, it is worthy of note that women make up 57.8% of the world’s workforce, which is reported to be an all-time low since 1988. Suffice to say, that prioritising women’s health issues is prioritising majority of the world of work’s health issues, considering women make up a huge part of the labour force.
While both men and women contract various conditions, some health issues affect women differently and more commonly. Further, women bear exclusive health concerns, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, menopause, and pregnancy. Women suffer higher heart attack deaths compared to men. Depression and anxiety exhibit more frequently among female patients. Urinary tract conditions present more often in females, and sexually transmitted diseases can cause more harm to women. Among the conditions that present most frequently in women, these pose considerable health risks: heart disease, breast cancer, ovarian and cervical cancer, gynecological health, pregnancy issues, autoimmune diseases, depression and anxiety.
Though the world of work may be no place to offer solutions to any of these aforementioned health issues facing women, there is an endless list of things that can be done to assist women to tackle whatever health battles they may be facing, irrespective of where they may come from. A woman’s psyche is entirely different from men, and sometimes what goes a long way to encourage or strengthen a woman is the knowledge that their organisation is there for them and has cared and thought about them enough to put systems in place to help. Actions and inactions in caring for the health needs of women in the world of work, will directly affect their productivity. All resources are only valuable to the extent at which they can be exploited or leveraged into economic value. This article will however just scratch the surface on how to prioritise women’s health in the workplace, leaving room for you to think up more ideas.
1.The workplace can have facilities to alleviate the discomfort of dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps). A women’s kit can be made available with items that can help them through the ordeal more comfortably. The women’s kit could have items such as: pain relievers, hot water bottles, green tea, sanitary towels, just to name a few. An additional perk will be access to a change of clothing, should there be any embarrassing stains at that time of the month. Having such systems in place will afford women in the world of work a more pleasant physiological experience.
2. Pregnant women are encouraged to complete the 6-month exclusive breastfeeding recommended by WHO and the Ministry of Health which results in a better physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the child who is a future human resource to the country. To make this easier for new mothers, organisations can reinforce policies that will give new mothers more time with their babies. In some countries, there is a minimum requirement set by the law. That minimum should not be a hinderance to forward-thinking and game-changing policies. In today’s working world where agile working has been a success for many organisations, that could be an option for some new mothers, if they do not wish to take complete time off work to nurse their children. Further, day cares in the workplace can do a lot for a new mother’s mental health and anxiety. This affords new mothers an opportunity to be more focused on her work and thus more productive.
3. Organisations can provide free annual screening services for the women in their organisation, in order to early detect any abnormalities in their mind, body, and/or reproductive system. Early detection of some diseases such as breast cancer and cervical cancer, have better prognosis and survival rates.
4. There is magic in any conversation. Better still, a conversation with the right person – who has professional skills to listen and help. Having counsellors, and therapists available to speak to, may be all a troubled employee needs in the workplace. There are some difficult conversations that a “girl chat” cannot address. Issues pertaining to miscarriage, sexual abuse, harassment, and many other internal struggles that can negatively affect one’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Last but not least, a woman can also prioritize her own health by knowing her physiology and being prepared for the many cycles and phases of life. Something as basic as personal hygiene can significantly improve the general wellbeing of a woman. Women should be more assertive concerning their health and seek medical attention when they feel unwell. A famous quote by Marilyn Monroe says, ‘Strong women don’t have attitudes they have standards’ so make prioritising your health as a woman, the standard.
Dr. Sedinam Abena Adoboe
House Officer – Ho Teaching Hospital