Women’s health care is still nowhere near equity: Biases, taboos, and sexism remain pervasive in medicine, with ripple effects across all aspects of a woman’s life.
But there was a pervading note of optimism at WIRED Health last week during a panel about the future of women’s health care. Taboos are being shattered—particularly around topics like menstruation, menopause, and women’s bodies. “There’s a sea change right now,” says Jennifer Garrison, cofounder and director of the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality at the Buck Institute in California.
Change begins with better education about women’s health, says Geeta Nargund, the founder and medical director of Create Fertility, a British IVF service. Things are starting to improve: In the United Kingdom, specific education on women’s health will be mandatory for medical students from 2024.
One obvious need is to overhaul how the medical field thinks and talks about menopause—and how it’s treated. “Going through menopause is one of the most dramatic things that can happen to a healthy woman’s body,” says Garrison. Yet we view menopause as a single snapshot in a woman’s life, instead of a medical transition that takes place over several years, with many health effects.
And the realities of a woman’s body shouldn’t interfere with her career trajectory, as it does today. “When women’s health is so underserved, that ultimately does create gender imbalances at the top of the corporations,” says Kate Ryder, CEO of Maven Clinic, the largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health. This is where her company fits in: Maven Clinic is helping businesses retain talent by improving health outcomes and reducing maternity and fertility costs for female employees.
Despite signs of progress, there’s still a mountain of work to do. “We need to start thinking about women’s bodies as a whole, instead of treating one organ system at a time,” Garrison says. But to get there will require more funding and attention. “There’s just a total lack of data,” says Garrison. “So we don’t understand the most fundamental things about what’s happening with women’s health.”