The Mental And Physical Health Impact Of Gender Bias According To A Female Psychologist

Courtesy of Dr Saliha Afridi

The theme of International Womens Day 2022 is Break the Bias. Women from all parts of the world and in all walks of life continue to contend with biases. According to the Gender Social Norms Index released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nine out of ten men and women have biases against women and according to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of progress, it will take is 107 years to reach gender parity.

While many societies have come a long way in their fight for gender parity, women continue to face pressures, barriers and biases. And whereas before the biases were obvious and overt, now they are unconscious and unspoken, making it often harder to address or tackle the issues. Unconscious biases are attitudes and beliefs that are held without the conscious awareness of the person that affect the way a person feels about others. And so the only way we are going to break the bias is if we are able to consciously own and address the biases that exist inside of each and every one of usmen and women.

Instagram @drsalihaafridi

Some of the biases that women face include:

  1. Performance bias: a deep rooted belief that underestimates womens performance and overestimate mens performance.
  2. Attribution bias: Because women are seen as less competent than men, people tend to give them less credit for accomplishments and blame them more for mistakes.
  3. Likeability bias: Men are expected to be assertive, so when they lead it feels like it natural. Women are expected to act docile and communal, so when they hold leadership positions or assert themselves, they are seen as being less likeable.

  4. Maternal bias: Women who are mothers are seen as less committed to their careers and seen as less competent.

  5. Intersectionality bias: isnt limited to gender. Women can also experience biases due to their race, sexual orientation, age, beauty, a disability, or other aspects of their identity.

Having to contend with unconscious barriers and biases impacts a womans physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. 

  1. Imposter syndrome – while there are many women who report struggling with imposter syndrome as they enter the workforce, it is reasonable to assume that feeling like an imposter is a reasonable reaction to women constantly being undermined in their ability and performance in the workplace due to unconscious biases. These biases make women feel doubtful about their own abilities.
  2. Burnout– women have to work harder to prove themselves in the workplace and in the family sphere. In their personal lives, they carry the majority of the responsibility that comes with being a caregiver to children or elderly parents. At work, they contend with biases, get less pay for similar work, while having limited opportunities for development. These unrealistic expectations of having to perfectly play multiple roles can result in a woman working overtime to the point of burnout to prove her worth to others.
  3. Psychological trauma –  biases can also result in women feeling powerless and lacking personal agency in their professional and personal lives.  High levels of distress, coupled with high degree of powerlessness can result in psychological trauma.
  4. Mental health difficulties:  Mental health-related risk factors that disproportionately affect women include pressures created by their multiple roles, gender discrimination and associated factors of the pay gap. Women who report experiencing discrimination scored higher on symptoms of depression. Women worldwide are also twice as likely to have anxiety and depression than compared to men.
  5. Physical health difficulties: The stress experienced as a result of unrealistic expectations and gender biases can contribute to chronic physical health difficulties such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 

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