The comprehensive feminist approach to health.




consistently played a key role in movements challenging the biomedical

approach. The comprehensive feminist approach is based on eight pillars

and is characterized by its critical stance toward medical and

government institutions.

With the new edition of the framework for women’s health, the

Reseau quebecois d’action pour la sante des femmes (RQASF–Quebec

Women’s Health Action Network) offers a critical reading of the

current situation and its causes, including the impact of globalization

on our health and on our lives in general. It

A different perspective

The following are the eight pillars of the comprehensive feminist

approach to health:

While biomedicine is a mechanistic concept of the body that divides

the individual into a collection of component parts, the comprehensive

approach is based on a conception of the human being as a whole (body

and mind) interacting with their social and physical environment. Thus,

this approach defines health in a holistic * way, as the result of

social relationships.

In contrast to a homogenizing vision of health, the comprehensive

feminist approach advocates the recognition of the physiological and

social differences between the sexes, while at the same time recognizing

the differences between individuals, both women and men. This

acknowledgement of a person’s many different

characteristics–whether they are a man or a woman, rich or poor, gay or

straight, living with a disability or not, etc.–is called


According to the comprehensive feminist approach, in order to

improve health, the social determinants of health must be taken into

account; these are the factors that have the greatest impact on health,

such as income, employment and housing.

Contrary to an interventionist, cure-oriented medicine, the

comprehensive feminist approach believes a population’s health

cannot be improved without prevention and health promotion. Health is a

matter of social justice. Consequently, governments must not abdicate

their responsibility to enact legislation and regulations in all areas

that affect the determinants of health.

Self-care, taking charge of one’s own health, is another of

the pillars of the comprehensive feminist approach. This is something

that has traditionally been promoted by Quebec feminists, particularly

in women’s health centres. Self-care involves a personal effort to

understand the links between our health and our life circumstances. It

aims to achieve a more egalitarian therapeutic relationship based on

respect, communication, and the full participation of the person

consulting the health care professional.

Therapists and physicians are expected to show respect for

people’s autonomy and their right to informed consent. Informed

consent is a fundamental right, so therapists and physicians have a

responsibility to provide all available information to those who consult


Thus, certain types of biomedical knowledge historically based on

the exclusion of women must be reexamined. It is essential to exercise

vigilance and critical thinking with respect to knowledge that is

presented as universal, often with the support of economic interests

(the pharmaceutical industry, for example). Finally, the comprehensive

feminist approach to health is distinguished from the dominant medical

approach in its openness to alternative approaches. However, these

approaches must also be underpinned by guidelines and regulations to

safeguard the rights of the individual, both in their relationship with

the health professional and in their choice of the approach to health

care that best suits them.

Adapted from Changeons de Lunettes: Pour une approche globale et

feministe de la sante, from the Reseau quebecois d’action pour la

sante des femmes

The full document Changeons de Lunettes (French only) is available

to order at the website of the Reseau quebecois d’action pour la

sante des femmes (RQASF ) www.rqsaf.com

The RQASF is an provincial nonprofi t mulitdiscplinary

organziation. Their mission is to work in solidarity to better the

physical and mental health of women of all walks of life. To learn more

about their activities, consult their website

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