Migrant women and the gender pain gap

Have you heard of the gender pain gap? Due to years of unconscious bias, sexist stereotypes of women as “dramatic” or “weak” and a lack of research into women’s health, we now see a phenomenon where women’s pain is disproportionately ignored or misdiagnosed. Often women are simply told that the pain they are experiencing is “normal.”

This is a systemic problem within health and medicine that sees women being disadvantaged from getting the healthcare they need because of their gender. But what about when your gender intersects with other factors? This is often the case for migrant and refugee women, who often experience both gender bias and racial bias, and whose status as migrants or refugees further impedes their ability to access healthcare to manage pain.

The gender pain gap is seen especially in menstrual health. For example, research into painful periods is rarely considered important, even though up to 90 per cent of women suffer from it. And while at least 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis, it can take up to seven years for a diagnosis.

Looking at endometriosis, we can see how migrant and refugee women experience further barriers to managing period pain. The available data shows that migrant and refugee women account for 30 per cent of people impacted by endometriosis. Yet, they are less likely to have access to in-language and culturally appropriate information about menstrual health.  Barriers to accessing healthcare can result in even longer delays in diagnosing endometriosis for migrant and refugee women. Cost is another compounding factor. Endometriosis can only be diagnosed by a laparoscopy (a type of surgical procedure), but for migrant and refugee women who are not eligible for Medicare, this can cost up to thousands of dollars.

While it’s great to see more awareness in the media about issues such as endometriosis, it's time we see greater research into menstrual health and a real commitment to addressing women’s pain. In particular, we need to see more research that is led by migrant women, and that focuses specifically on migrant and refugee women’s experiences of menstrual health.

For many migrant and refugee women, receiving a diagnosis and having culturally sensitive care and support for their pain, can lead to immense relief and positive health outcomes. Remember, when it comes to migrant women’s health, we must listen to, and take seriously, migrant women’s voices.

First published in edition #111 of The WRAP on 29 July 2022.