Gender inequality has a profound effect on mental health worldwide. Some of the psychological effects of gender inequality include higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women and people of marginalized genders.

Gender inequality manifests itself in many different ways. People can experience mental health conditions as a direct result of gender-based discrimination or violence, for example. They can also develop conditions indirectly as a result of exposure to socioeconomic inequality, chronic stress, and harmful messages in the media.

In this article, we will look at the psychological effects of gender inequality.

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Gender inequality refers to the differences between genders in terms of status, power, wealth, health, and employment. When these differences are avoidable and unfair, it is known as gender inequity.

Gender inequity is the product of sexism, which is prejudice or discrimination against people based on their sex or gender. It primarily impacts women and girls, with consequences that begin at birth.

Some of the measurable ways that gender inequity affects women globally, in comparison with men, include:

  • lower rates of schooling and employment
  • less pay for similar work
  • higher levels of stress
  • higher rates of unpaid work, such as caring for sick relatives
  • exposure to higher rates of sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, and gender-based violence
  • a lack of representation in government

Some of the ways that sexism affects everyday life include:

  • sexist remarks
  • sexual harassment
  • workplace discrimination

All of these have a significant impact on the mental and physical health of women and girls, as well as people of other marginalized genders.

Unlike sex, which is based on biological traits such as genitalia, gender refers to how people feel about themselves. As a result, anyone can experience gender inequity and sexism based on how they behave and express themselves.

Yes. According to a 2020 article, women with mental health conditions outnumber men by as much as two or threefold, depending on the condition.

In comparison to men, women are:

While it is true that many factors play a role in mental illness, including biological differences between sexes, women are overrepresented in these statistics, as well as in statistics for chronic physical illnesses.

Studies have shown a link between experiencing discrimination and mental health symptoms. Sexism also exposes people to many of the risk factors of mental health conditions, including chronic stress, negative self-image, and trauma.

One of the psychological effects of sexism can be trauma. Trauma is a reaction to experiencing a severely distressing event that can cause a wide range of mental and physical symptoms, including:

  • anxiety and panic
  • anger
  • sadness
  • numbness
  • insomnia or nightmares
  • dissociation, or feeling disconnected from one’s own thoughts, feelings, or body
  • hyperarousal, which puts the body into a state of alertness, making it difficult to relax
  • flashbacks

Traumatic events can affect people differently. If the symptoms persist for long periods after a traumatic event, people may meet the criteria for PTSD.

Women are slightly less likely to experience a traumatic event than men. But the types of trauma women experience are more likely to lead to PTSD. This includes child abuse and sexual assault, which 1 in 3 women in the United States endure during their lifetime. In men, the rate is around 1 in 10.

Women are also more likely to experience childhood neglect, intimate partner abuse, the sudden loss of a loved one, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3 million girls undergo FGM every year, most of whom are under the age of 15 years old.

Experiencing a traumatic event can lead to depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are 2–4 times more prevalent in women who have experienced intimate partner violence, on average, than in the general population. Childhood abuse is also strongly linked to depression.

Stressors are events that can cause stress. Studies from Spain and Canada have shown that women have more chronic stressors than men. They also find these stressors more threatening. As chronic stress is a risk factor of many health conditions, it is likely this plays a role in the higher rates of mental health conditions among women.

Some examples of stressors that disproportionately affect women include:

Household responsibilities

Despite the fact that in many countries it is common in two-parent households for both parents to work, women still spend more time on parenting and housework than men.

A 2014 nationwide study looking at women physicians and academics found that among those with partners and children, women spent, on average, 8.5 hours more each week on domestic chores. Among those with partners who had full-time employment, women were also more likely to take time off from their jobs to take care of children.

Caregiving

Women provide unofficial care to family members and others more often than men. Caring can negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health.

Caregivers have higher stress levels than those who are not caregivers, and women caregivers report more stress and health problems than men caregivers. Research also links caregiving with a higher incidence of depression in women of childbearing age.

There are many factors that could contribute to this. Informal caregiving can result in people:

  • getting less sleep or exercise
  • having less leisure time
  • earning less money, putting them at a higher risk of poverty
  • becoming socially isolated

Any of these can increase strain on a person’s mental health.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual comments or advances. A survey from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that around twice as many women experience sexual harassment as men.

During their lifetime, 81% of women and 43% of men reported at least one incident. Women with disabilities were the most likely to experience physically aggressive harassment and assault. For most people, the age they first experienced harassment was between 14–17 years old.

Both the experience of harassment and the fear of experiencing harassment have a damaging effect on mental health. A 2017 study found that workplace harassment was linked with depressive symptoms, while other studies have linked sexual harassment to:

  • symptoms of PTSD
  • lower quality sleep
  • higher rates of absence from work

A 2015 cross-cultural study found that across 48 nations, men had higher self-esteem on average than women. One explanation for this is the widespread influence of gender roles, stereotypes, and the emphasis on women’s physical appearance in certain countries, such as the U.S.

A brief 2019 review notes that many studies have shown that gender stereotypes, such as the idea that boys are naturally better than girls at math or science, directly influence academic performance and lower women’s confidence in their own abilities. In cultures with weaker stereotypes, the difference in mathematic ability between boys and girls disappears.

Low self-esteem is a risk factor of a number of mental health conditions, some of which can become serious. This includes eating disorders.

Self-esteem can be closely related to body image, or how a person feels about their physical appearance. A 2019 report from the British charity Mental Health Foundation found that when it came to body image:

  • 25% of women and 15% of men felt shame
  • 40% of women and 28% of men felt anxious
  • 45% of women and 25% of men felt depressed

Both low self-esteem and a negative body image are risk factors of eating disorders, which are more prevalent among women than men.

One reason for this is beauty standards. In industrialized countries, the ideal for women is often thinness. A 2015 review identified both the idealization of thinness and feeling pressure to be thin as risk factors of the onset of eating disorders.

Gender inequity has serious and long-lasting consequences for women and other marginalized genders. Exposure to violence, objectification, discrimination, and socioeconomic inequality can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and PTSD.

While counseling can help individuals affected by mental health issues, systemic change is necessary to achieve equity and reduce the burden of mental illness on all oppressed groups.