Women’s Equality Day (August 26) celebrates the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote with the passage of the Woman Suffrage Amendment in 1920. How has that turned out for us 100+ years down the road? Let’s take a look back at the history behind this day and, how exercising our right to vote has impacted women’s health equity over the past 100+ years.
The women’s suffrage movement began in 1878 with the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca, New York, and carried on, except for a pause during the Civil War, until in 1920, the Woman Suffrage Amendment passed by a single vote in Tennessee, the last of the two-thirds of states required for ratification. The amendment simply and concisely states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
What does women’s health equity mean to you, Gerie?
Women’s health equity aims to correct the disparities that have existed in addressing women’s health in a holistic manner. It requires focus on sex-based differences commencing with improving medical educational resources and including this in all aspects of undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies. All diseases and disorders should be examined in terms of how they manifest themselves differently in women throughout each phase of life. It is essential that women are adequately represented in all aspects of discovery, pre-clinical, and clinical research. And it is necessary that products are designed to specifically address differences in dose and dosage regimen, and hormonal status.
Why is Women’s Health Equity so important?
Women’s lives hang in the balance while we ignore women’s health equity!
We have unfortunately witnessed the impact of the lack of women’s health equity: lack of appropriate medical school training has resulted in the underdiagnoses of significant health issues such as cardiovascular disease. Drug development without consideration of incidence and prevalence in the female population or lack of testing of drugs used primarily by women; Thalidomide, SSRI’s, antihypertensive. It’s therefore vitally important that we recognize sex-based differences and consider how these manifests themselves differently in women and design products that have been studied in women to adjust dose, dosage, and dosage regimen specifically for women.
Women’s healthcare equity: taking stock of the past to inform the future
While voting has led to some major policy changes in support of women’s healthcare, progress towards achieving parity in health care has been largely hindered by the same barriers that impeded voting access, namely; prejudice, paternalism, and overt and covert discrimination. For decades, women were largely omitted from medical research, which meant that clinical standards were based on a one-size-fits-all approach that didn’t appropriately serve the needs of women. Discriminatory employment and health insurance practices left women with inadequate pregnancy and maternity coverage, leading to inadequate health care and compromised health.
To effect societal change requires policy change, which requires advocacy and legislative activism, all of which are backed by the power of the vote. At the national level, it’s not an exaggeration to say that who we elect to the White House influences how we experience healthcare. The president puts forward a proposed budget for funding federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, which prioritizes the types of medical and health research that get funded. It wasn’t until 1993, with the passage of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy and signed by President Clinton, that women were required to be included in NIH-funded research. Similarly, presidents nominate Supreme Court justices, and women’s reproductive and employment rights have been significantly impacted over the years by several pivotal Supreme Court rulings.
At the state level, legislation supportive of women’s healthcare has been enacted in various states and has included bills that allow contraceptive care to be covered by insurance and policies that mandate implicit bias training for healthcare workers. State-level policies have also addressed the so-called “pink tax”. This is the tendency for products for women, such as menstrual products, to be taxed as luxury goods, or, in the case of products marketed to both men and women, for the women’s versions to be priced higher than similar products for men.
Although a century of women exercising their right to vote has improved the scope and quality of women’s healthcare overall, reproductive healthcare continues to be a politically contentious topic, with the 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade possibly posing the greatest risk to women’s health and well-being in recent history.
Now more than ever, women’s right to vote is proving to play a vital contributing role in advancing health equity and upholding democracy for all Americans.
Does FemmePharma engage in political or grassroots advocacy efforts to further the cause of women’s health equity?
FemmePharma continues to engage with members of government and its representatives to drive the agenda forward.
Minority women remained disenfranchised
Even before the Woman Suffrage Amendment was passed, the suffrage movement had become divided along racial lines. An organization called the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), founded in 1866, was advocating for suffrage for both women and African-American men. Subsequently, around the time the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, which prohibited denial of the right to vote “… on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, famous suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony split off from AERA to form The National Woman Suffrage Association because they rejected the idea of African-American men getting the right to vote before White women.
Ultimately, though a diverse representation of women, including thousands of African-American women, and some men, had organized and participated in the suffrage movement, in practice, passage of the amendment almost exclusively benefited White women. Women of color continued to be barred from voting by exclusionary state and local policies and practices such as literacy tests, poll taxes, voter ID requirements, and even threats and intimidation tactics intentionally designed to exclude these women from exercising their right to vote.
These practices carried on for another four decades when, in 1962, the 24th Amendment was passed, abolishing poll taxes, and in 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which expressly banned racial discrimination in voting. A decade later, an amendment to the Voting Rights Act addressed language barriers to voting that had disenfranchised the Latinx community.
Why is women’s equality lacking in healthcare?
Women’s health has been an afterthought. Most products that have been developed were pre-clinically and clinically tested in a male population or did not take into consider sex-based differences, hormonal differences, and race. This has resulted in women being treated as the default male and has created inequity. This stems from what I often refer to as paternal benevolence in addressing women’s unique concerns, failure to include women in research, and the lack of data that exists.
What major changes (improvements or setbacks) have you seen in women’s health equity throughout your career?
There is not enough emphasis place on repairing the damage done and lack of focus on changing the paradigm. I’ve seen limited effort being made and more recently we are facing an assault on women’s reproductive rights with far reaching implications.
What are, in your opinion, the two most important changes that need to take place to improve women’s health equity?
I believe a women-centric approach to education as well as research and data gathering to improve outcomes in women’s health.
What does FemmePharma do to celebrate or commemorate Women’s Equality Day?
FemmePharma celebrates women every day. For over two decades we have been committed to making a difference in women’s health in our research and development, our product development, and in the educational resources and reach out to women.
At FemmePharma, we believe:
We believe sexual health matters.
We believe in developing products that are safe and effective to meet women’s unique needs.
We believe all women deserve access to safe and proper medical care.
We believe knowledge is power.
We believe in empowering and supporting other women.
We believe in women’s rights and women’s health equity.