How can we apply feminist intersectionality to digital health research?

Written by Candice Taguibao, WHRI’s Digital Health Research Manager

Although digital tools have the potential to make care more accessible and convenient for many, there are some groups who may be missing out on the full benefits of innovation: women and particularly low-income women of colour.

In a viewpoint article recently published in the Lancet titled The need for feminist intersectionality in digital health, the authors summarize intersectional feminism as a framework to understand and investigate how gender intersects with race, ethnicity, income, geography, and other social factors to influence “experiences of marginalization, social disadvantage, and poorer healthcare outcomes (pg. 1).”

When applying this theoretical framework to digital health solutions in healthcare, key gaps were identified:

  • Women are more likely to adopt digital health tools compared to men, but most technologies do not address women’s health issues and were designed without a gender equity perspective.
  • There is under-representation of women from racial and ethnic minorities in digital health intervention participation, even in health areas where these groups are disproportionately affected.
  • Personal data privacy and security risks may disproportionately affect black, Asian, and multi-race women, who are at a higher risk of intimate partner violence.
  • Algorithms for decision making technology can potentially introduce dangerous gender and racial biases.
  • Women, and more so women of colour, are under-represented in digital health leadership.

How can researchers respond to these gaps?

  • Apply human-centred design and intentionally include women, specifically women from marginalized groups, in every stage of design, development, and testing. Seek to understand potential barriers to inform equitable design.
  • Advocate for access to digital technology enablers, such as internet in neighbourhoods and communities without stable connection (or no connection).
  • Evaluate digital health interventions using intersectional gender analyses to understand the impact of technology across various groups.
  • Ensure privacy and security of data and provide participants with clarity about information being collected and an option to opt out.
  • Work with diverse team members and patient partners, provide team training, and support women, including women of colour and other marginalized groups, into positions of leadership in digital health.

The WHRI is committed to supporting and catalyzing digital health research, which strives to improve health among women and other marginalized genders. As a research community, we can do more to apply intersectional approaches to ensure equitable innovation. To learn more about what WHRI is doing in digital health, click here.

Read “The need for feminist intersectionality in digital health”