Using a Gender‐Responsive Approach to Generate Policy, Systems, and Environmental Changes to Improve Women's Health

Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
Using a Gender-Responsive Approach to Generate
Policy, Systems, and Environmental Changes to
Improve Women’s Health
Jodi Burke, Wendy Lombard, Laurie Lachance, Patrick Kelly, Margaret Wilken,
and Sandra Waddell
Community coalitions have proven to be an effective mechanism for identifying and addressing
social determinants of health. This project mobilized the Inkster Partnership for a Healthier
Community (IPHC) coalition, bringing together diverse organizations, and community residents in
Inkster, MI to collaboratively develop a strategic plan to address health inequities revealed in a
community health needs assessment (CHNA). The coalition designed a multi-faceted, gender-
responsive approach designed to increase social connectedness as a means to improve health and
foster well-being among women in the community. The approach included three core strategies: (i)
providing health literacy mentoring, (ii) using community health workers (CHWs) and lay health
educators to increase opportunities for access to and use of community health resources and self-
management programs, and (iii) publicizing targeted health messages intended to positively
inf‌luence gender norms related to women’s health. Emphasis was also placed on instituting policy
systems and environmental (PSE) changes to promote sustainable community health improvements.
Initial implementation outcomes indicate that a gender-responsive approach to community health
improvement initiatives is a promising model for how coalitions can purposefully adapt and evolve
to incorporate gender-based considerations into programmatic and PSE change efforts that equitably
benef‌it all residents.
KEY WORDS: gender-responsive approach, social determinants of health, policies
Gender has been recognized as an important social deter minant of health
(SDOH) (Ashida & Heaney, 20 08; Men, Frieson, Sochea t, Nirmita, & Mony,
2011; Phillips, 2005), e specially for women in vul nerable communities where
the day-to-day burdens o f managing their lives is a crit ical factor in chronic
disease prevention and hea lth management. Gender i s def‌ined as “the socially
constructed characte ristics of women and men such as n orms, roles, and
World Medical & Health Policy, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2017
doi: 10.1002/wmh3.236
#2017 Policy Studies Organization
relationships of and bet ween groups of women and men. These attributes can
inf‌luence people’s susceptibility to different health conditions and dis eases and
affect their enjoyment o f good mental, physical he alth, and well-being. Th ey
also have bearing on access t o and uptake of health servi ces, and on the health
outcomes experienced throughout the life-course” (Wor ld Health Organizatio n,
2016). The Off‌ice on Women ’s Health (OWH) def‌inition of gender-based
approach is one that addr esses gender norms, rol es, attributes, and behav iors
that are identif‌ied by the co mmunity as impacting tr eatment, access, and
overall health (Alexa nder & Walker, 2015).
Research has demonstrated a link between gender, stress, and health status
(Samuel-Hodge, Skelly, Headen, & Carter-Edwards, 2005; Sarkadi & Rosenqvist,
2002; Whittemore, D’Eramo Melkus, & Grey, 2005). The primary caregiving role
that women maintain in their families often renders them vulnerable to the
stresses and tension in others’ lives as well as their own (Samuel-Hodge et al.,
2005; Sarkadi & Rosenqvist, 2002; Whittemore et al., 2005). When women have a
chronic illness, such as diabetes, their role strain becomes even more burdensome.
Perceived barriers associated with multiple caregiving roles negatively impact
feelings of well-being, sense of control, and level of competence (Samuel-Hodge
et al., 2005). Therefore, gender has the potential to complicate the “lifestyle” steps
needed to effectively manage chronic conditions and their risk factors.
Social connectedness has been described in the literature as “a signif‌icant and
pervasive determinant of health and well-being” that can help mitigate the effects
of other determinants of health (Berkman, 2000; Gallant, 2003; Healthy San
Francisco, 2003; Minnesota Department of Health, 2010; Rosland, Heisler, & Piette,
2012; Wilson et al., 1986). Social connectedness refers to the quality, strength, and
extent of individuals’ relationships with others (their social networks), and how
those relationships benef‌it the individual as well as society (through social support
derived from social networks) (Hernandez & Blazer, 2006; Ministry of Social
Development: The Social Report, 2010). Studies have demonstrated that individuals
with strong social connectedness and healthy relationships enjoy a higher quality
of life and contribute to better functioning, vibrant communities (Baum, 1999;
Kasper & Pearson, 1995; Minnesota Department of Health, 2010).
There is growing evidence that women at all stages of life need social support
for optimum health (DeVault, 1994). An examination of published articles found
that, “Perhaps, the most common f‌inding across the different chronic diseases
and conditions reviewed is the importance of social support. ... Women were less
likely to receive support, leading to less positive coping” (Vlassoff, 2007).
Therefore, efforts to address gender inf‌luences on women’s health should strive
to increase opportunities for incorporating the supportive aspects of social
connectedness into health-promoting interventions.
The value of working with a community coalition to identify and tackle
SDOH has been extensively described in the literature (Butterfoss, Goodman
& Wandersman, 1993; Clark et al., 2010; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2004; Wolff,
2001). Coalitions are integral in bringing together individuals and organiza-
tions with diverse backgrounds and experience to address complex problems,
Burke et al.: Gender-Responsive Approach to Changes 359

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT