Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day celebrated around the world to mark the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action to accelerate women’s equality.
The theme for IWD 2022 is #BreakTheBias. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead.
What is Bias?
The Oxford Dictionary defines bias as “prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”
Contrary to some popular belief, gender bias still exists today. While people around the world support the idea of gender equality, The Pew Research Centre found that at least four-in-ten people think men generally have more opportunities than women in their country when it comes to getting high-paying jobs and being leaders in their community. According to the International Labour Organization, in every country in the world, women continue to be paid less for comparable work than men.
How has COVID-19 impacted gender equality?
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing gender inequalities. Over the past few years there have been reports of rising gender-based violence against women. Women also experience higher adverse economic impacts. They are generally earning less, and working in more insecure, low-paid, and informal jobs. Women are also increasingly doing unpaid work to care for their children as schools move to virtual learning.
How does FASD fit into the picture?
Gender inequities intersect significantly with FASD and FASD prevention.
Mothers of children with FASD experience multiple layers of stigma. Stigma is one of the biggest barriers impacting high quality care for pregnant women using substances. It can prevent them from seeking help or disclosing their substance use out of fear of judgement, feelings of shame. It can also cause women to fear that they will lose custody of their child or face criminal charges for their substance use.
Healthcare providers’ perceptions of women who use substances may also influence the quality of care that their patients receive. Any population where there is alcohol use is at risk for FASD. Healthcare providers should screen all women for substance use during pregnancy. Women who use substances may also have disabilities, like FASD. Health care practitioners should be aware of this and provide care that aligns with their needs.
Social Determinants of Health
Substance use during pregnancy is often connected with other socio-economic factors, known as the social determinants of health. Health is made up of more than physical well-being. Affordable, safe, and appropriate housing, stable income, mental wellness, access to healthy food, and protection from violence are all basic components to health. Policies, programs, and interventions should consider the social, economic, and structural barriers that influence substance use in pregnancy.
Health is a human right
Harm reduction and health promotion before, during, and after pregnancy is important for the health of the entire family. Health is a human right.
Women deserve high quality health care and health education. They have the right to know the impact of substance use on their health and the health of their child. They have the right to supports and services that can help reduce or eliminate substance use. They have the right to become empowered with up-to-date, accurate information on their sexual and reproductive health. They have the right to access affordable contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies. After birth, they have the right to access supports and services that promote their health and wellbeing and that of their child.
We Can All Make a Difference
As we celebrate women’s achievements globally, we can take action against gender inequity by making changes in our everyday lives. This includes how we talk about and perceive women and substance use and how we provide support for women and families. Learn more about the various components of FASD prevention here.