The research into women and occupational risk factors seems wide-ranging, but amounts to scrutiny of a small number of big questions: Are women more vulnerable to workplace MSDs than men? Are women disproportionately afflicted? Do the risk factors lurk in the nature of a woman, or in her work, workplace or life? Can these factors be separated? Should they be separated? The challenge is finding answers that are unassailable.
The language of the debate is still evolving. The words “sex” and/or “gender” thread through the studies, but they are used loosely. In a paper read at the First UK Gender and Health Summit Promoting Health Equality for Men in 2003, researchers Oonagh O’Brien and Alan White at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh make a clear distinction between them. “Sex” is a term used when differences between women and men appear to be primarily biological, they say, and “gender” refers to “the social construction of roles allocated to men and women.” But authors T.M. Wizemann and M.L Pardue, widely cited in research literature about women and occupational exposures, write that “gender is rooted in biology and shaped by environment and experience.” This pithy definition appears to dismiss the need for “sex.”
Confusion about findings relating to gender and the incidence of MSDs isn’t unusual, and in an interview with The Ergonomics Report
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2007-03-02.