Kate Hunt stands at the podium at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre with the first slide of her presentation on gender and health, which was the opening plenary session of FAB Congress 2016.
FAB Congress kicked off this morning with an excellent talk by Prof. Kate Hunt at University of Glasgow in Scotland. Hunt is the Associate Director at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit.
Hunt’s paper described gender differences in health between men and women, busting some myths about the effect of masculinity on health behaviors and confirming others about the effects of gender on how seriously health was taken. For instance, men who had symptoms of breast cancer had to wait much longer for referral to a specialist than did women who had symptoms of breast cancer, while women who had symptoms of bladder cancer waited quite a bit longer than men for referral to a specialist. Hunt also described a public health initiative she was involved in to get older obese men interested in improving their health (which may or may not mean weight/size) to engage in better health behaviors. This program worked in cooperation with Scottish Premier League football (soccer) teams to bring men in to take insider tours of the facilities, train in the facilities, walk up and down the stadium steps, engage in support groups with each other, and more. 12 month follow up showed that the results were almost entirely sustained for nearly all participants, rare with such initiatives. Hunt points out that this worked by harnessing masculinity to good health behaviors. Masculinity should not be conceived of as a simple obstacle to wellness.
Sarah Ssaali delivering her talk at the 2016 FAB Congress in Edinburgh Scotland on June 13, 2016
Many papers followed including a cornucopia of ideas in the new Rapid Pitch format in which multiple participants deliver their arguments in very short papers, leaving time for the audience to have a discussion knitting the ideas together.
Several afternoon paper panels also took place including one by members of the RinGs working group from Ghana and Rachel Tolhurst, who spoke about her work in India with the ASHA program, India’s community health worker (CHW) program. When discussing approaches to gender and health care systems, Tolhurst stressed that “Intersectionality… is critical in not creating a hierarchy of suffering.” Other panelists involved with RinGs, which looks at how gender plays a role in research into health systems, included Sarah Ssaali, Senior Lecturer in the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Ssaali asked, what if the health system you create endangers those you intend to serve? She discussed how difficult it can be to convince people that systems appearing to be gender neutral are in fact not gender neutral at all, noting that men–who are the majority of policy makers in Uganda as in European and North American nations–can become defensive when one makes gendered power analyses of health systems. Ssaali also discussed other aspects of research in her nation, including attempting to interview female participants who needed the permission of their custodial male relative in order to participate, and older women who cannot bear to discuss reproductive health matters with young male researchers. While feminist values might lead us to judge male custodial permission for adult females perfectly capable of making their own decisions to be oppressive, Ssaali points out that disrupting this patriarchal hierarchy can leave a household in disarray and put women at risk. And yet going along with these traditional social structures seems to validate them. “We try to be culturally sensitive to not harm participants, but this is at the risk of entrenching patriarchy,” said Ssaali.
Ssaali’s colleague David Musoke also prevented his research on gendered division of labor within community health workers in Uganda, as determined by analysis of photos of their work that 10 workers (5 male and 5 female) took over a 5 month period. It revealed that even though the CHWs had similar job descriptions, women tended to do more childcare, were seen as or thought of as being more available in the community, and were far more likely to support female patients regarding reproductive health. By contrast, males were able to cover large areas during community mobilization due to their ability to drive motor vehicles in ways that women were generally not trained in or allowed to do. This also enabled them to serve as a motorcycle ambulance service. Male CHWs were also much more likely to be involved in manual activities related to maintaining safe water and so forth. Thus, gender affected the actual performance of ostensibly gender neutral CHW duties. Musoke notes that those hoping to do research in these communities and use CHWs as intermediaries should be aware of the ways that gender affects their work.
These are just a few of the excellent papers delivered on the first day of FAB. I very much look forward to the second and third!
If you are not able to attend FAB Congress, or are just not able to attend all sessions simultaneously due to being merely human, you can follow a lot of us (including myself: @AlisonReiheld) who are live tweeting the conference at #FAB2016. Just go to twitter.com and search for the hashtag, or go here.
And now, from Edinburgh, where it remains this light until well after 10 pm, good night!
Edinburgh Castle from Castle Terrace at 10 pm, June 13, 2016.