Men's Health: Is gender a factor or not?
In the past decade there has been a growing awareness that gender is a key determinant of health. What this means is that “being a man” or “being a woman”, can shape our health in different ways. Yet the Government's draft strategies for men's health and women's health suggest that gender is a women's health issue, but not a men's health issue.
Our experience of “being a man” can promote or prevent good health. At present, there are lots of competing theories about how and why “being a man” shapes our health and what we should do about it.
Some of the competing theories are listed below:
- Men’s health is shaped by individual behaviour, therefore changing men’s behaviour is the key to improving men’s health
- Men’s health behaviours are the result of “masculinity” and men being “macho”, therefore changing men’s “blokey” attitudes is the key
- Men’s social roles (e.g. being a breadwinner, doing dangerous jobs) can put their health at risk, so we either need to change those roles or improve our response to the risk those roles present
- The way society is structured creates disadvantage and poor health for women as a group and some priority groups that include men. We need to change the way society is structured or at least provide better support for those disadvantaged groups.
- The way society treats men is unhealthy (“man bashing”) and disadvantages men. We need to change the way society treats men and address the disadvantages that men experience.
- “The System” is not as effective at providing support services to men as it could be, therefore we need to change the way “The System” provides services to men, for example, by becoming more male-friendly.
So how has the Government responded to these (at times) competing theories in its Draft Men's Health Strategy? On first reading, the authors of the Strategy appear to have got around the question of how “being a man” shapes men’s health by conceptualising men as health consumers and focusing on making health services more “male-centred”.
This is a pragmatic and practical response but it doesn't align with the approach taken in the Draft Women's Health Strategy, which appears to embrace the theory that the main reason “being a woman” can have a negative impact on health, is gender inequality/inequity. This is reflected in the National Women’s Health Strategy as follows:
- Gender Equity is the first of 5 key principles of the Women’s Health Strategy
- One of the strategy’s key objectives is to highlight the significance of gender as a key determinant of women’s health and wellbeing.
There is a risk that this approach reinforces the view that gender and gender equity are women’s issues (but not men’s issues) and as a result:
- We fail to engage men and boys effectively in gender equity work that aims to improve women and girls’ health;
- We fail to consider how “being a man” impacts men’s health and miss out opportunities to improve men and boys’ lives and men and boys’ health.
Finally, in terms of gender diversity, it is important to flag up for ongoing discussion, how the different approaches to gender as a determinant of health in the Men’s Health Strategy and Women’s Strategy impacts the way the two strategies respond to the needs of LGBTIQ communities.
HOW TO TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
As the national forum for men's health in Australia, we actively welcome a diverse range of viewpoints on health and gender issues and we encourage respectful discussion between people with differing views. Here are three ways you can tell us what you think about the National Men's Health Strategy: