To be sure, girls and women are less powerful, less privileged and have fewer opportunities than men worldwide. However, that does not justify disregarding the evidence. After all, an approach that focuses on the half of the population that takes fewer risks and uses healthcare services more frequently cannot be expected to eliminate gender inequalities.
Coping with the emerging social and economic burdens associated with poor health — not least those stemming from aging populations in many countries — requires a new approach to replace the unbalanced, unproductive model that currently prevails. It is time to exchange the gender norms that are undermining men’s health for a social, cultural and commercial emphasis on healthier lifestyles for everyone.
Gender norms are not static. Societies, cultures and potential markets change. For example, patterns of alcohol consumption in Europe are beginning to shift. While men continue to drink more — and more often — than women, the frequency with which girls and boys report being drunk is now about the same. As Asian and African markets open up, similar social changes may follow as alcohol and tobacco advertisers seek new customers. We need to act now to bring gender justice to global health.
The Roman philosopher Cicero said: “In nothing do men approach so nearly to the gods, as in giving health to men.”
The multibillion dollar global health industry appears to have turned Cicero’s maxim on its head, focusing instead on giving health to women. Emphasizing the health of one gender undermines gender equality and misses the point of global health initiatives, which is — or should be — to improve health outcomes for all.
Sarah Hawkes is a reader in global health and Wellcome Trust senior fellow in international public engagement at the Institute for Global Health, University College London. Kent Buse is chief of political affairs and strategy at UNAIDS.
Copyright: Project Syndicate