Two and a half years ago, a simple but compelling question drew me to consider taking the helm of the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation: What would a truly equitable health-care system look like?
As it turns out, the answer is anything but simple.
Women’s health has historically been sidelined, mostly because it was assumed that it was the same as men’s health. The male body was used as the baseline for all health research, education and, from there, practice. In other words, if we knew something about the biology of men, we assumed that the same applied to women. The landscape became even more complicated when I sought robust data on race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, socio-economic status, disability and geography.
All gendered research today tells us this was absolutely wrong.
Although Canada’s health research landscape has seen a shift toward inclusion in research studies, significant gaps in knowledge remain regarding the behaviour of drugs in women and women-specific health issues. Failing to consider the impact of gender in research puts women at risk for missed opportunities for prevention, incorrect diagnoses, misinformed treatments, sickness and even death. I then became consumed with questions beginning with Why? Why were women not included in research trials until the 1990s? Why haven’t men and women both benefitted equally from progress made in health and wealth? Why do women still earn less than men when we know that poverty and health inequity are deeply intertwined? And why are more people not talking about these inequities?
Others were joining us in asking these questions. There has been a growing realization that women have not reached equity here in Canada. So what can we do to transform this energy and momentum to make meaningful progress and improve the health of all women across all life stages?
Over the next two years, we engaged skilled facilitators and industry leaders and took an exhaustive review of the women’s health space. The findings and lessons learned along the way have illuminated the best approach for the Foundation’s path forward. Together with our board and hospital colleagues, we landed on a new name, tone and expanded mandate that matches our bold and dynamic vision for the future. Healthy women everywhere, capable of anything.
Our vision is supported by four key pillars. Research and Innovation: we are committed to closing the gap and removing gender bias through our funding of the only dedicated provincial women’s research centre in Canada, the Women’s Health Research Institute. Education and Awareness: by sourcing and disseminating relevant information related to the unique health needs of women, we can shift the discourse and encourage women to take control of their own health. Advocacy: we will work with elected officials and government policy makers for increased investment in our partners, reflective policies and practice, and an enhanced commitment to improving the health of women. And as always, Capital and Equipment: we will continue to strive to have the facilities and equipment at BC Women’s Hospital match their world-class model of care. While we may not have hospital in our name, we will always be the Foundation for the hospital. In fact, I am proud to announce that this last year saw the largest-ever investment committed to BC Women’s in the Foundation’s history!
You’ll notice these four areas of work in the very magazine you’re reading. Starting with the cover story on Dr. Gina Ogilvie’s groundbreaking research to eliminate cervical cancer. You’ll meet Dr. Kim van der Woerd, a leading advocate for Indigenous health and mentorship. Dr. Lori Brotto’s feature details how she harnessed the power of social media to let women living with PVD know that their pain is real. You’ll get to know BC Women’s chief operating officer, Cheryl Davies, in a personal way in her candid interview. Lastly, we will share with you a career’s worth of learnings from one of Canada’s leading educators and women’s rights champions, Dr. Dorothy Shaw.
On May 30, we will wake up as the BC Women’s Health Foundation. I invite you to join us on this exciting new journey as we look to a future where every woman is seen and heard by the health-care system. Where women have equitable access to the highest quality health care when, where and how they need it.
Women make up half of the world’s population. They’re held back for so many other reasons. But I know this one is preventable.
Genesa M. Greening, CFRE
President + CEO
BC Women’s Health Foundation
Photo credit: Claudette Carracedo