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Intersectionality and Women's Health: Understanding the Complexities of Identity and Health Outcomes

By: Julia Kemzang


In the tapestry of human existence, our identities are not singular threads but intricate weaves of various intersecting factors. Among these, gender and race play profound roles, shaping experiences in diverse and nuanced ways. When it comes to healthcare, these intersections become particularly crucial, influencing diagnoses, treatment plans, and health outcomes. In exploring the realm of women's health through an intersectional lens, we unravel a tapestry woven with complexities and disparities that demand our attention and action.


The Intersection of Identity and Health Outcomes


Much like race, gender is not a static, isolated construct but an intersectional identity that interacts with various other factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and more. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, emphasizes the interconnected nature of social categorizations and their impacts on individuals' experiences, particularly in marginalized communities.

Women's health, therefore, cannot be viewed through a monolithic lens but must be understood within the context of intersecting identities. For example, Black and Hispanic women face unique challenges in accessing quality healthcare due to the compounding effects of race-based discrimination and gender-based disparities. These intersections manifest in various aspects of healthcare, from diagnostic practices to treatment plans, ultimately influencing health outcomes.


Understanding the Complexities in Healthcare


Examining specific areas of healthcare sheds light on the pervasive influence of intersectionality on women's health outcomes:

  1. Reproductive Health: Obstetric care, for instance, illustrates how intersecting identities can shape health experiences. Research indicates that Black and Hispanic women are at higher risk of adverse maternal outcomes, including cesarean births and preterm deliveries, compared to their White counterparts (Bryant et al., 2010). These disparities stem from a multitude of factors, including systemic racism, socioeconomic inequalities, and access to healthcare services.

  2. Chronic Disease Management: Similarly, the management of chronic diseases like kidney disease highlights the impact of intersecting identities on healthcare. Diagnostic tools often incorporate race as a factor, leading to disparities in treatment recommendations. For example, Black patients may receive inflated kidney function scores, potentially affecting their eligibility for necessary care (Tsai et al., 2021).

  3. Mental Health: Intersectionality also plays a crucial role in mental health outcomes for women. Marginalized communities, such as LGBTQ+ individuals or racial minorities, often face additional barriers to accessing mental healthcare services due to stigma, discrimination, and lack of culturally competent care.

Advocacy and Empowerment in Healthcare


Addressing the intersectional challenges in women's healthcare requires a multifaceted approach that centers on advocacy, empowerment, and systemic change. Healthcare providers and patients alike can contribute to fostering a more equitable healthcare system by:


  1. Cultural Competence: Healthcare providers must recognize and address the intersecting identities of their patients to deliver culturally competent care. This entails understanding the unique challenges faced by diverse populations and adapting care plans accordingly.

  2. Patient Advocacy: Women must advocate for themselves within the healthcare system, asserting their right to equitable treatment and access to quality care. This may involve seeking out healthcare providers who prioritize intersectional approaches to health and wellness.

  3. Policy Reform: Advocacy efforts should extend beyond individual interactions to encompass broader systemic change. This includes advocating for policies that address structural inequalities in healthcare, such as improving access to reproductive healthcare services and combating racial disparities in medical treatment.


Conclusion


In the realm of women's health, intersectionality serves as a critical framework for understanding the complexities of identity and health outcomes. By acknowledging the intersecting factors that shape individuals' experiences, we can work towards a healthcare system that is inclusive, equitable, and responsive to the diverse needs of all women.


References:


Bryant, A. S., Worjoloh, A., Caughey, A. B., & Washington, A. E. (2010). Racial/ethnic disparities in obstetric outcomes and care: prevalence and determinants. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 202(4), 335-343.

Tsai, J. W., Cerdeña, J. P., Goedel, W. C., Asch, W. S., Grubbs, V., Mendu, M. L., & Kaufman, J. S. (2021). Evaluating the Impact and Rationale of Race-Specific Estimations of Kidney Function: Estimations from U.S. NHANES, 2015-2018. EClinicalMedicine, 42(101197).

Neff, K. K. (2021, June 14). Four ways self-compassion can help you fight for Social Justice. Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_self_compassion_can_help_you_fight_for_social_justice

Deyrup, A., & Graves, J. L. (2022). Racial biology and medical misconceptions. New England Journal of Medicine, 386(6), 501–503.

Garvick, S. J., Banz, J., Chin, M., Fesler, K., Olson, A. M., Wolff, E., & Gregory, T. (2023). Racial disparities in pain management. JAAPA, 36(11), 37–41.


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