“The impact of women-specific health problems on women’s lives are very visible to those of us working in women’s health,” says Dr Nadia Amokrane. She’s a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist working in a South London hospital. She’s also part of Elevate’s team of wellbeing professionals and is running a webinar on 31st August: All Things Gynae.
In the UK alone, we lose 14 million working days each year because of menopause symptoms. “Women are 51% of the population. And 1 in 4 women are thinking about leaving the workforce because of menopause alone.” Women find it uncomfortable talking to bosses (who are still statistically more likely to be male) about women-specific conditions. In addition, many companies have no policies to support women employees.
And it’s not just women-specific conditions that have a disproportionate impact on women. In the book, Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez compares women’s health outcomes to men’s. In fact, the disparity is stark. She demonstrate that most of the metrics, testing and research are geared towards male bodies and experiences. Likewise, women’s conditions receive less research funding. In addition, less research is done on the impact of gender-neutral conditions on women’s bodies.
For example, 8 years is currently the average time of an endometriosis diagnosis. And this, Invisible Women highlights, is just one symptom of a system that leaves women “chronically misunderstood, mistreated and misdiagnosed.”
New Ambassador for Women’s Health
The UK Government announced the new position in June 2022. And, Dr Amokrane is excited to see what England’s Women’s Health Strategy will bring.
“I hope the first Women’s Health Strategy for England will tackle the gender health gap. Dame Lesley Regan is the new Women’s Health Ambassador. She’s Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and her expertise and knowledge will be vital. She’ll ensure that policy makers are targeting the correct issues for women and girls’ health.”
Dr Amokrane wants to see more investment in women’s health specialisms. In training enough of the right people to fill vacant posts. And in boosting morale among women’s health teams. “Personally in my work as a gynaecologist, we have a huge backlog of appointments and procedures for women and girls that were delayed during the pandemic. We need investment and expansion of services, so it’s possible to catch up.”
Q and A on all things gynae
We asked Dr Amokrane about the most frequent questions women bring to her clinic. The things she wishes she could tell every girl and woman. And finally, the questions people are most embarrassed to ask.
What are the questions women need to ask but may be embarrassed about?
“Often women are embarrassed to talk about sex. Experiencing pain or discomfort, for example. Another embarrassing topic can be abnormal or smelly vaginal discharge. They can both be symptoms of underlying conditions. So I urge women to always talk to their doctor. Your doctor, gynaecologist or nurse will reassure you. Don’t be embarrassed discussing these concerns or having intimate examinations. We really just see this as a normal part of our job. And it doesn’t bother us in the slightest discussing odours, colours, sex or anything else!”
What’s the number one question women ask you?
“The most common thing I get asked about is periods. What is a ‘normal’ period? And what is expected when you’re on your period? There is a huge range of what can be normal. But that doesn’t mean women need to put up with painful or heavy periods. Often many period problems can be managed fairly straightforwardly by your GP. And if not we’ll refer you to see a gynaecologist.”
What’s the most common concern women have?
“A lot of my patients have concerns about their fertility. We spend a lot of time teaching young girls and women how not to get pregnant. But not a lot of time telling women about their reproductive health and the challenges of becoming pregnant. So many factors affect fertility. Getting the right information to women of all ages is something I really advocate for!”
What’s the number one thing you want girls in school to know?
“There is so much I would love to pass on to young women about their sexual and reproductive health. If I have to choose just one, it’s how to avoid getting sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex is more than just not getting pregnant. Use barrier protection. Get tested regularly. And make sure your partner is also tested. It’s so important when embarking on a new sexual relationship.”
What do you wish all men knew about women’s health?
“There’s a lot for everyone to learn about women’s health. I believe young people should be educated together about their bodies in schools. It’s never too early to teach our children not be embarrassed about normal bodily functions, feelings, and attitudes to sex and reproduction.”
Join our session: All Things Gynaecology
On 31st August, Dr Amokrane is running an online session with us, called ‘Women’s Health – All Things Gynae.’ It’s from 4pm until 5pm BST.
Join us to explore the most common gynaecological problems and questions. “We’ll talk about period problems, pelvic pain, menopause and toilet troubles. And cover how to manage these. I’ll also give my top tips on how all women can look after their health day to day.”