A non-traditional, collaborative approach to women's' wellness beyond her reproductive health
The cause of workplace wellness is undoubtedly a well-intentioned one. While several articles, research papers and debates argue both for and against the monetary returns of running such programs, no one can take away the fact that organizations that have wellness programs at workplace tend to be viewed as more employee-centric than those who don’t.
However, sometimes most well-intentioned wellness programs also run the danger of being too “socialistic” in their design and application philosophy. In an attempt to have ‘something for everyone’, it is easy to miss the wood for trees. Let’s take work-place women's wellness interventions as an example. Come the International women’s day and demand for ‘women-centric’ sessions goes through the roof. If you haven’t guessed it already, the topics largely tend to center around reproductive health - Breast cancer, Cervical cancer, Menstrual Hygiene, Work-Life Balance, Weight loss, Self-Defense and so on. If one looks at this pattern, one will notice not only the clinical futility of such programs but also if viewed from a gender lens, it portrays an un-intentioned sexist bias. A gender activist in the public health space once told me “women’s health is not just about her sexual organs”. An interesting paper titled Women's health beyond reproduction: meeting the challenges (published by Bustreo F, Knaul FM, Bhadelia A, Beard J, de Carvalho IA in 2012) talks about the same - "Strong historical ties between the concept of women's health and that of reproductive health have led to a concentration of international attention and resources on maternal health and human immunodeficiency virus infection..."
There are several myths contributing to the neglect of non- communicable diseases among women. One of the prominent ones being, NCDs, especially heart diseases, are diseases of men. The truth, on the other hand, is that although age-specific NCD death rates in women lag the rates in men by about 10 years, the absolute number of 16.2 million NCD deaths in women is similar to that of 18.4 million NCD related deaths in men (Beaglehole R, Bonita R. Women & NCDs – Overcoming Neglect, Glob Health Action, 2014.). In fact, Indian women due to a high-stress lifestyle are being more prone to heart attacks, the symptoms of which are often ignored or misread. According to a recent report, each year about 4,25,000 women have a stroke, which is 55,000 more as compared to men.
Another example is that of diabetes in women. India is home to 70 million diabetics with half of them being women, with these numbers set to grow to 101 million in 2030 one can begin to understand the magnitude of the problem, especially if viewed from the point that women tend to be primary caregivers in our socio-cultural context. It will be surprising to know that one in seven births is affected by gestational diabetes, stating an even bigger problem of diabetes during pregnancy or uncontrolled diabetes before pregnancy.
I am not for a moment advocating that reproductive health is not a concern. It sure is. However, one should not oversimplify the “womanly” health issues to just a uni-dimensional approach of reproductive health. Women’s day will come and go every year, however, if we want a lasting impact created for women in our lives (and that includes your employees), It is time that we adopted a more collaborative, multi-disciplinarian and Integrated approach towards women wellness that addresses this complex issue with not just a clinical, mental & social approach but with also a level of gender sensitivity. Happy Women’s Day Everybody!!!
Ariz Rizvi – Senior Vice President & Head Health Risk Consulting
Ariz Rizvi is a seasoned professional with over 19 years of multi sectoral and cross- geographical work experience across Employee Insurance, Health Benefits & Workplace Health Promotion and Prevention design. He has done his BA (Hon) from Huddersfield University (UK) and Advanced Management Program from IIM Bangalore