Women's experiences of discrimination and the impact on health: research - easy read summary

Findings from research on how women in Scotland experience discrimination and how it affects their health.

Women’s Health Plan 2021-2024 - Equality in Healthcare - Easy Read Summary

What is this document about?

The Women’s Health Plan for 2021-2024 is a plan to improve the health of women and girls in Scotland. One part of the Plan is about discrimination. This is when you are treated badly because you are different.

You can be discriminated against because of your sex, gender, disability, race, and many other things. We wanted to speak with women about their health and discrimination to help us with that part of the Plan.

This document tells you what we did, what women told us and what we will do with that information.

Why this matters

Women and girls have their own health needs and do not always get equal healthcare to men. Equality means everyone has the same access to services that they need.

Some people might need extra support to access services or to be as healthy as they can be. Some women may be discriminated against and that might stop them being as healthy as they can be.

We want all women and girls in Scotland to enjoy the best health they can throughout their lives. Speaking to women about their health and discrimination will help us to improve services.

What we did

We organised a discussion groups of women who all lived in Scotland. We spoke with 14 people in total and they were all from different backgrounds.

We then spoke to 28 young women, aged 16-25, in one-to-one discussions. We did this to learn more about this age group.

We only spoke to a few women. This means what we found is not what all women in Scotland think.

We looked at what the women told us and wrote a full report. The Scottish Government will use these findings to think about what they need to do to make things better for women.

What we found across the whole project

Some healthcare professionals ignore women when they ask for help with a problem with their health. Women told us that they feel that this is discrimination.

Women said that some symptoms of an illness are not being taken seriously. Sometimes pain or symptoms women have are blamed on things like stress or hormones and are not checked properly.

Women said they do not feel they are taken seriously by doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Some women told us that their bad experience with healthcare professionals means they do not want to go back. They might also take a long time to speak up about their health problems.

What we found in the discussion groups

Being ‘healthy’

Women told us that being ‘healthy’ means different things to different people.

Some people, like women with an illness or disability, cannot do the same amount of exercise as other people.

Women want healthcare that meets their individual needs.


Racism is what we call it when someone is treated badly because of their race. Racism is one form of discrimination.

Some women told us about racism they experienced from healthcare professionals and other NHS staff. Racism makes it harder for some women to access the health service or receive care.

Racism in everyday life affects women’s mental health and some women had to leave their jobs because of stress from racism.

Speaking up for yourself

Women told us that they have to speak up for themselves to healthcare professionals if they want to get taken seriously and to fight discrimination.

Some women are more able to speak up for themselves than others.

Women who speak up for themselves might get treatment or support. But some treatments are not given by the NHS and are too expensive. This can include treatments like exercise programmes or mental health therapy.

What we found in conversations with young women

Being ‘young’

Some people told us that being young meant they were not are taken seriously by doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Some young women said that because they are young, health professionals think they are healthy and do not have anything wrong with them.

They also said because they are young, some healthcare professionals think they are ‘stupid’ and don’t know much about their health.

Some young women told us that their bad experience with healthcare professionals means they do not want to go back. Some young women said they changed how they spoke or behave at the doctors to get taken seriously.

Mental Health

Some young women told us that being discriminated against affected their mental health.

Some young women who had mental health problems said that they found it difficult to get support. They said they felt this was discrimination as their mental health issues were blamed on being a woman and being young (hormones).

Some young women told us that when they go to the doctor with a physical health problem, some healthcare professionals blame that on stress or anxiety.


Some young women told us that they were not told about the side effects of contraception like the pill.

When some young women had physical and mental health symptoms and thought it was related to the pill, they were told by healthcare professionals to ‘wait and see’. They felt that their health concerns were not taken seriously.

Some young women stopped taking the pill because they were unsure about other options and did not feel they could speak to their doctor about it.

Broader experiences of discrimination

Some young women told us that is it not just people that can discriminate. Young women from ethnic minority background said that it is discrimination that there is no research or support for health conditions for people in their ethnic group. They gave an example of skin conditions.

Some young women also told us that they cannot exercise at night outside because they are a woman and it is not safe. They also do not always feel safe or welcome at the gym. Some people told us they feel that this is discrimination.

A lot of young women cannot afford to have a gym membership. Finances are also related to discrimination of women if they cannot afford the gym and it is not safe to exercise outside at night. Some young women told us they felt they had limited options, which men might not feel.

What happens next?

We will use what women told us to make changes to the next Women’s Health Plan.

We are thinking about what this tells us about how to challenge discrimination and improve women’s health.

We have more projects planned to speak to more women in Scotland about their health.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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