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Gender Equity in Public Health, a major challenge for ICTs in the LAC Region

Gender Equity in Public Health, a major challenge for ICTs in the LAC Region

The world has dramatically changed over the past three decades. The appearance and rapid development of multiple Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have shaped the way in which communities think of, and relate to, each other. The potential and realized contribution of ICTs to improve population health and wellbeing has not found its boundary yet. A relevant matter when we relate ICTs to healthcare is gender equity. The Fourth World Conference of the United Nations on Women held in Beijing in 19951 defined the media and new technologies (ICT) as a crucial sector for greater equality, democracy and social justice. Some international studies show that not only are there differences in accessing the Internet, but also in the way women and men use it. Men tend to make more use of the Internet for consumption and leisure, in the that, in addition, the presence of technology products is more pronounced, while women have a tendency to opt for practical content services and social1.

There are several gaps that need urgent attention in gender inequity: (a) gaps related to the unequal distribution of social determinants of health (SDH) and health care for women2, in particular access to services, (b) gaps related to the unequal use of ICTs by women (the “digital gap”), (c) gaps in public health matters that do not always adequately address women´s needs. With respect to the first gap on the SDH, there is a well-recognized limited access to long-term jobs for women in LAC, as untrained women tend to reach temporary jobs and lower salaries than men, with scarce social and health protection. Prevailing expectations related to gender roles affect women’s education level, resulting in a higher percentage of informal sector employment and unemployment rates. This, in turn, greatly limits women’s ability to afford health care services.

In terms of gender equity in public health matters and the potential use of ICTs, few studies address how ICTs can, in practical terms, be used to overcome gender-related barriers to healthcare access. A recent peer-reviewed scan conducted by eSAC3 points towards the role of socio-economic factors in predicting gender inequality levels and women’s poorer health outcomes. ICTs potential has not been fully exploited in this issue, but could become a crucial mediator on reducing gendered health inequalities, by facilitating ways to share within communities even when they are not located in close proximity to one another.

As seen through the three gaps described above, despite significant improvements in women’s longevity and health, a proportion of the female population in LAC might continue to experience lower health than they could. This point is particularly relevant within the context of SDH, namely poverty and gender norms. Effective gender equality will only be attained once the inter-linkages between poverty, gender relations, and healthcare are understood and tackled as a cohesive whole. Moving forward, healthcare policies in LAC will need to embed this triad in order to level the playing field amonggenders and increase female health care access, particularly amongst marginalized and poor women4.

Due to their multifaceted nature, ICTs present an interesting avenue in improving access to health services amongst to all groups, especially those who have been traditionally excluded from access, such as women and girls. Currently, the majority of ICT-focused initiatives in LAC either aim to improve women’s technological fluency or address high-level policy and research issues. Few projects utilize ICTs to augment healthcare access amongst remote, indigenous and/or marginalized women or mainstream ICT, healthcare and gender policies at national and sub- national levels. Initiatives leveraging ICTs to generate income amongst women while improving healthcare access both at the field and policy level are needed2.

Given the available information on the multiple gaps women experience for improving their health and wellbeing, along with the recognized potential of ICTs, some recommendations can be made: (a) Integration of women into the use of the ICTs must be explicit in local policies in the LAC region; b) Tailored training and content development sensitive to gender issues should be enhanced globally and in LAC; c) Organizations should include women as key decision-makers on ICTs use and development for the reduction of existing digital, public health and SDH gaps.

 

Editorial By:

Gladys Faba, PhD, International Consultant to PAHO for the eSAC project on knowledge management

Báltica Cabieses, PhD, Consultant to PAHO for the eSAC project on equity in health

eSAC is a project jointly developed by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the University of Toronto and the Pan American Health Organization to contribute to the improvement of the health and wellbeing of marginalized population groups in the LAC region, through the application of Public eHealth solutions (http://esacproject.net/)

 

References

1Fourth World Conference on Women, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/fwcwn.html

2      World Bank, World Bank eatlas Gender. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.app.collinsindicate.com/worldbankatlas-gender/en-us>.

3      Cabieses B and Freel S. Using technological innovation to improve gender equity in public health, August 2013, Prepared for the eSAC  project Web platform. See http://esacproject.net/

4      Environmental scan: gender equity public health and tics, June 2013 Prepared for the eSAC Strategic Workshop July 1st-July 3rd 2013 Washington, DC.</p>