A little history behind the learning

Why do we, in the medical field, want YOU, our patients, to learn all about health? This millenium is the information age. It is the age of women beginning to achieve equality. It is also the age of health awareness. It is an age in which we hope and work for various forms of justice, from social to environmental. But things were not always that way.

In the year 1900, our life expectancy was in the 40s. Women lived less long than men due to the rigors of childbirth and various gynecologic illnesses. With the advent of modern medicine and surgery, especially Obstetrics and Gynecology and other public health measures, women’s life spans increased to modern levels. 

However, along the way, the birth process in particular became “medicalized”.  Eventually it became overly medicalized with an excess of drugs and interventions.  Birth was not recognized as the mostly normal, empowering life cycle event that it usually is. Early women's health advocates realized that the sexism which pervaded society at large influenced the health care of women in harmful ways. In the 1960's and beyond, feminists called for a reevaluation of medical and birthing practices, leading to the Women’s Health Movement (WHM). They encouraged women to learn about and take charge of their own health care, including not only birth, but matters like birth control. 


Although at times this thinking was overly idealistic, unscientific, and unsafe, the early Women’s Health Movement was a much needed stimulus for the pendulum to swing toward a happy medium of medically sophisticated yet woman centered care. Since then, women have begun to speak up about their health experiences. They have gradually entered the health care world as scientists, researchers, caregivers (4) and informed consumers, and their input has changed womens lives for the better. If you google Women’s Health Movement (WHM) , you’ll find all kinds of information about its interesting and radical past. Since then, the WHM has matured, and now common sense practices and principles distilled from it benefit women's health care the world round. 

Our entire culture has awakened to the importance of understanding the depth and breadth of gender inequality and its impact on women and their health. Before modern health care, women’s life experiences associated with their menstrual cycles, sex, giving birth and menopause have been mysterious at best and dangerous and humiliating at worst. Through the work of many all this has changed. Women may now approach their health proactively with self-determination. Nowadays, it is expected and encouraged that women educate themselves, and that they collaborate with their medical caregivers, who in turn, are expected to practice evidence based medicine.  


The Women's Health Movement can be seen as a predecessor of the more general and more recent Patient Empowerment Movement. While the women's health movement advocated for the open dissemination of health information to women, it did so with pencil, paper, a few homegrown books, and group gatherings. The Patient Empowerment Movement also seeks to return ownership of health information to patients, and to make the patient an equal participant in the health care process. However, it has done so in a much accelerated way thanks to the power of the internet.

The Women's Health Movement has helped stimulate an emerging understanding of the pivotal role that women’s health plays in global population, poverty, and even natural resource and environmental issues. (2) (3) This integrated understanding of women’s health and well being set in the context of families, society and the environment comprise the concerns of modern Obstetrics and Gynecology. 




1.) Wagner, R Polk (PDF), Information wants to be free: intellectual property and the mythologies of control, University of Pennsylvania.

2.) Poor Health, Poor Women: How Reproductive Health Affects Poverty By Margaret E. Greene

3.) LINKING POPULATION, POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT, Reducing Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Development, United Nations Population Fund

4.) Fotte, Gianna, Women in Medicine: How Female Doctors Have Changed the Face of Medicine, Yale Journal of Medicine and Law, Volume VIII, Issue 2, 7 May 2012