Woman in bright traditional dress

On the occasion of Universal Health Coverage Day, the ReLAB-HS Consortium has released a new factsheet entitled ‘Rehabilitation through a gender lens’.

An estimated 2.4 billion people are in need of rehabilitation services worldwide. Changing demographics, the increase in non-communicable diseases, injuries and traumas, as well as COVID-19 increase the risk of an escalation in the number of people affected.

How can we translate ‘health for all’ into practice, when rehabilitation services and assistive technology remain too often inaccessible or unaffordable? How can we progress towards universal health coverage, when certain groups of people, because of their gender, disability, or geographic location face huge barriers to get the rehabilitation care they need?

Recognizing that gender norms and roles shape access, use and access to rehabilitation services and assistive technology, our new factsheet illustrates the importance of adopting a gender-responsive approach in planning and implementing rehabilitation and assistive technology policies and programming.

Gendered barriers include lower socioeconomic standing, lack of insurance, safety concerns, social norms, family obligations, gender bias affecting assessment and referrals, shortage of women personnel in rehabilitation, and services or equipment that are not adapted to diverse needs and requirements.

“In some contexts, girls’ and women’s access to services may be subject to the authorization of the father, the husband or even in some cases the eldest son. As some women are not allowed to be away from their children, or their family obligations, they often shorten the duration of care”.
– Graziella Lippolis, Technical Unit Manager at Humanity & Inclusion

Available evidence describes lower participation rates, worse rehabilitation outcomes, and a disproportionate burden of caregiving among women and girls compared to men and boys. From what very limited data is available, gender minorities’ experience of accessing health care shows frequent exposure to stigma and discrimination, and for some a reluctance to participate in certain health services.

“As mothers of children with disabilities, women are particularly affected by disability-associated stigma, which can sometimes make it very difficult to access rehabilitation care for their children”.
– Anna Cuthel, Technical Advisor at Miracle Feet.

What does the ReLAB-HS consortium recommend to turn this situation around?

Understanding inequities – including those influenced by gendered determinants – is a precondition to improve the availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability of rehabilitation services and assistive technology. This is why we need to enhance research and data collection, and ensure the participation of people of all genders at all stages of rehabilitation planning and delivery.

The best way to ensure that rehabilitation services reach all those who need them is by integrating rehabilitation across all levels of the health system and in Universal Health Coverage schemes, with specific actions to increase access and monitor coverage for women, girls, and marginalized groups.

It is also pivotal to invest in gender-inclusive and gender-responsive rehabilitation workforce and to apply alternative solutions that are likely to cater for the needs women and girls (including via alternative solutions like mobile clinics, home-based care, and tele-rehabilitation).

For more information, download the ‘Rehabilitation through a gender lens’ factsheet, and register now to attend our event, where we will discuss the points in the factsheet in further detail, taking place in January.