Notions of Autonomy Running Head: NOTIONS OF AUTONOMY Notions of Autonomy as they relate to Women’s Health Care
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Notions of autonomy in women’s health care are critical when determining effective
strategies that women can implement while seeking adequate health care for themselves
and their families. The difference between the concepts of female agency and female
autonomy should be noted. Female agency refers to the presence of women as
intermediates in various operational procedures which are acted out through them. It has
a more passive tone than female autonomy which refers to the more active self-
governing, self-determining and ultimately, self-controlling actions that women can use
when interacting with the socio-economic system that influences their lives and the health
care available to them (Sherwin, 1998).
Many studies exist to show that women as a group are not as advantaged as men when it
comes to education, employment and earnings. The main reason for the discrepancy in
women’s earnings compared to men’s appears to result from the presence of children.
Unlike men, who can work full-time throughout their careers with no hindrances, women
are compelled to schedule their paid work around childbearing and childcare, as well as
household chores and perhaps the responsibility for other aged or disabled family
members. This, quite naturally, leads to a large pay gap between men and women who
are more likely to suffer economic hardship. This is even more evident when women are
not very educated or skilled, single mothers, disabled or old (CRIAW, 2002).
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Low education and economic status has been linked to health problems and the type of
health care available to an individual. Women from low-income groups have been shown
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to suffer from health problems related to inadequate nutrition or ignorance of basic health
procedures (Sherwin, 1996; CRIAW, 2002). Such women can benefit greatly from being
trained to make more informed choices regarding their individual health such as having a
nutritious diet and cutting down on substance abuse. They can, if possible, try to enhance
their earnings which will lead to a better quality life overall by conscious self-
improvement in a holistic manner (Shroff, 2000). Increasing the autonomy of these
women through imparting information and skills will lead them to be more aware of
public health care options open to them and will make them less susceptible to becoming
victims of the system. Privatization of health care will work against these women as they
will not be able to afford it. Women’s autonomy in personal health and hygiene, basic
safety, emotional and sexual health, pregnancy, delivery and childcare, first-aid and
nutrition, disability and old-age issues must be encouraged for them to take better charge
of their own lives and health needs (The Boston Women, 2005).
There is a gap between the ideal state of patient autonomy and the actual situation. In real
life, society continues to play down the role of women as policy makers and major
decision takers. There are barriers to women’s advancement in education, employment
and income (Cawthorne, 2002). Their lives and health continue to depend on a
male-dominated system where they cannot exercise full control over all stages of the
health care process. However, as increasing enlightenment opens up the system in
women’s favor, they should be able to participate more actively and fully in controlling
their own lives and health related issues in the future.
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Cawthorne, J. (2002). The Mazankowski Report from a Women’s Health Perspective.
Retrieved December 10, 2007 from
[http://www. ualberta. ca/PARKLAND/research/perspectives/OPSmedicare. html]
CRIAW (Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women).(2002). Fact
Sheet on Women and Poverty.[Available through CRIAW at 408-151 Slater Street,
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H3.
Retrieved December 10, 2007 from http://www. criaw-icref. ca/
Sherwin, S. (1996). Theory versus Practice in Ethics: A feminist perspective on
justice in health care. In L. W. Sumner and Joseph Boyle (eds.) Philosophical
Perspectives on Bioethics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 198.
Sherwin, S.(1998). The Politics of Women’s Health: Exploring Agency and Autonomy.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Shroff, F. (2000). Forget Reform -We need a Revolution! Better Health for Canadian
Women through Holistic Care” in Diana L Gustafson Ed. Care and Consequences –
The Impact of Health Care Reform. Halifax, Fernwood. pp-271-294.
The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. (2005). Our bodies, ourselves: A new
edition for a new era. New York: Simon and Schuster.