Gender perspectives and quality of care: towards appropriate and adequate health care for women

Soc Sci Med. 1996 Sep;43(5):707-20. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(96)00115-3.


Gender inequalities in health are a consequence of the basic inequality between men and women in many societies. Despite the importance of socio-economic factors, women's health is also greatly affected by the extent and quality of health services available to them. Both non-governmental women's organizations and feminist health researchers have in recent years identified major gender inequalities in access to services and in the way men and women are treated by the health care system. Firstly, although women are major health care users as well as providers, they are under-represented in decision-making in health care. Secondly, no justice is done in general to existing differences in position and needs of women and men in defining quality of health care, i.e. gender aspects. Among women's organizations, there is general agreement that "gender sensitive health care should be available, accessible, affordable, appropriate and acceptable". In addition, health care for women should be adequate and not depart from a male model of health and illness. In this paper, we pay attention to inappropriate health care for women on the one hand, as illustrated by the increasing medicalization of women's reproductive life [menstruation, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth and (in)fertility]. On the other hand, we discuss gender bias in the management of serious, life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and kidney failure, as a form of inadequate care. These examples are followed by a global vision on quality of care from a gender perspective, as formulated by the women's health care movement in the Netherlands and at the Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing. If anything, the recommendations agreed upon in Beijing will have to ensure the consolidation and enhancement of good quality health care for women around the world. The final discussion, attempts to give some general recommendations for achieving more adequate (gender sensitive) and appropriate (non-medicalizing) health care for women. These recommendations pertain to health and health care research, policy, education, and organization from a women's perspective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Pregnancy
  • Prejudice
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Women's Health Services / standards*
  • Women's Rights