Each year for World Diabetes Day (WDD), the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) selects a theme and develops a suite of information resources. Member Associations of the IDF are encouraged to take on the theme, adapting the message to their country. In previous years, themes have included eye health and diabetes, access to healthy food, and diabetes education and prevention.

This year, the focus is women living with and affected by diabetes. And apparently, some people are not happy.

There are murmurings on a number of SoMe pages that the theme is discriminatory. Men have diabetes, too! And men care for people with diabetes! Why the focus on women? It’s not all about women, you know!

I’ve had a look through all the IDF materials and other WDD materials from other organisations and nowhere has it said anything about men not having diabetes, or not being involved in diabetes care. That’s not the point of the campaign at all, and if that is all anyone is seeing, they are missing the point.

Why the focus on women? Because health outcomes for women – including women with diabetes – are worse than for men. Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women, has some outstanding resources that show just how significant these differences are. Some information from the IDF materials:

  • As a result of socioeconomic conditions, girls and women with diabetes experience barriers in accessing cost-effective diabetes prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care, particularly in developing countries.
  • Socioeconomic inequalities expose women to the main risk factors of diabetes, including poor diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco consumption and harmful use of alcohol.
  • Stigmatisation and discrimination faced by people with diabetes are particularly pronounced for girls and women, who carry a double burden of discrimination because of their health status and the inequalities perpetrated in male dominated societies.
  • These inequalities can discourage girls and women from seeking diagnosis and treatment, preventing them from achieving positive health outcomes.

And these points don’t even mention women’s health issues such as diabetes and pregnancy, or reproductive and sexual health.

The campaign is not suggesting that men do not experience struggles when it comes to living with diabetes themselves, or are not involved and integral in the care of others living with diabetes.

But it’s not just the exclusion of men in this year’s campaign that seems to be a problem for some. I’ve seen a number of people complain because they feel the IDF materials are not talking about the great things women with diabetes can do. We can work! We can travel! We can have healthy babies! We can jump out of aeroplanes! We can be successful career women! We can run marathons! We can start businesses!

Of course we bloody can. And, again, nowhere in the campaign collateral is there any suggestion that women are not capable of doing these things. And if you are one of the women who is able to achieve all of those things, despite your diabetes, that is fantastic! But it is the very definition of privilege to think that just because your life is one way, then it must be the same for everyone else – or that if something is not a problem for you then it mustn’t be a problem for anyone else.

Those of us in a position of privilege can use WDD to draw attention to those in need. We can encourage others to donate and to lobby. We can highlight the inequality and inequity of health outcomes for different groups of people. This year, it’s about women.

And you known what? I can’t wait until diabetes health outcomes are the same for everyone, regardless of gender. Because then we won’t need to have a women as a theme.

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