News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

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There are no days off when you live with diabetes, and for women, the challenges can be even more complex.

From healthcare disparities to workplace discrimination to social interactions, women with diabetes face unique obstacles in many aspects of their lives. By addressing these challenges, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for women with diabetes.

According to the latest estimates from the IDF Diabetes Atlas, 260 million womenwere living with diabetes in 2021. Globally, diabetes ranks as the ninth leading cause of death in women, with more women than men die from the condition. In addition, women with type 2 diabetes are ten times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The influence of gender in diagnosis affects women and women with diabetes even more so. In many parts of the world, women experience difficulties accessing health care and, more specifically, screening. This often leads to misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis compared to men.

Hormones, patriarchy and diagnosis

Throughout their lives, women experience more hormonal and physical changes than men. Pregnancies can lead to gestational diabetes (GDM) — high blood glucose during pregnancy — which is a primary risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes in women and their unborn child.

Furthermore, recent UK research suggests menstruation might also affect diagnosis of type 2 diabetes by causing differences in HbA1c levels due to menstrual blood loss and haemoglobin replacement. Although perimenopause and menopause do not cause diabetes, hormonal changes in some women can lead to risk factors for type 2 diabetes. These examples highlight the importance of understanding and managing the impact of hormonal changes on women’s health.

Treatment challenges and risks

A 2019 study in Denmark found that women were diagnosed with various health conditions at an older age than men. Overall, women with diabetes were diagnosed four and a half years later than men. Researchers did suggest that genetics and environment partly contributed to this disparity. However, late diagnosis can contribute to an increased risk of complications such as blindness, kidney disease, and depression causing poorer health outcomes in women.

Moreover, current medical recommendations do not provide information on sex-specific or gender-sensitive management and prevention strategies. As a result, once diagnosed, this bias also extends to treatment, with women receiving insufficient diabetes care.

Filling the gaps in women’s healthcare

Many women and girls around the world face inequality in accessing healthcare due to power dynamics, gender roles, and socioeconomic disparities. When looking at low- and middle-income countries, limited healthcare resources and cultural implications make it harder for women to manage their diabetes and receive appropriate support.

However, gender disparity in diabetes care is not limited to LMICs. Diabetes varies not only among women but also among different ethnicities. Women of African, Latina and Indigenous origins are more likely to live with diabetes. Furthermore, in Western societies, women from the global majority often face racial bias when seeking medical treatment, leading to longer diagnosis times and lower-quality care.

I began experiencing fatigue and excessive thirst. My doctor diagnosed me with an electrolyte deficiency but did not check my vital signs or glucose levels. Within a week, my symptoms worsened, and I was finally diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the emergency room”, Phylissa Deroze, IDF Blue Circle Voice (US).

In 2010, Phylissa Deroze, a diabetes advocate and member of the IDF Blue Circle Voice network from the US, began experiencing fatigue and excessive thirst. Her doctor diagnosed her with an electrolyte deficiency and advised drinking a sports drink. The doctor did not check her vital signs or glucose levels. Within a week, her symptoms worsened, and after fainting and admission to the emergency room, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

In her advocacy work, Phylissa encourages other Black women to speak up to ensure that what happened to her never happens to anyone else.

Education and awareness are key to overcoming the obstacles women with diabetes face. Providing education, resources, and support empowers women with diabetes, equipping them with tools to manage their condition and encourages self-advocacy, enabling them to assert their needs and rights.

The tribulations of workplace stigma and social norms

Both men and women with diabetes can face discrimination in the workplace. They may encounter difficulties finding employment or obtaining promotions due to misconceptions about their condition. Additionally, office environments may not always be conducive to managing diabetes effectively.  For women with diabetes, these difficulties are compounded by long-battled barriers fought for equality with their male colleagues, including equal pay and representation at the highest levels.

Society’s emphasis on appearance and beauty standards can also affect women with diabetes. The constant pressure to conform to societal ideals can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. The physical changes that may occur due to diabetes management, such as weight fluctuations or the use of insulin pumps, can further contribute to these feelings. In certain cultures, women with diabetes are not considered suitable spouses because the common thought is that they will not be able to have children.

Having a solid support system is crucial. Support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and diabetes advocacy groups can make a significant difference in managing the condition. By connecting with others who understand their experiences, women with diabetes can find support, guidance, and encouragement to navigate the challenges they face.

Despite strong support from my family, the stigma associated with my condition due to limited diabetes education negatively impacted my outlook on life. By sharing my story and listening to others, I learned about the financial disarray and loneliness people experience following a diabetes diagnosis”, Thapi Semenya, IDF Young Leader in Diabetes (South Africa).

Overcoming the burden of diabetes stigma

Thapi Semenya, an IDF Young Leader in Diabetes and advocate from South Africa, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six. Despite strong support from her family, she entered a stage of denial during her teenage years.

The stigma associated with her condition due to limited diabetes education negatively impacted her outlook on life. By sharing her story and listening to others, she learned about the financial disarray and loneliness people experience following a diabetes diagnosis.

Today, spurred by this knowledge, she advocates for diabetes education, especially in the public sector and leads diabetes awareness-raising actions for people with diabetes, their families and communities.

Women as leaders of change

In the world of diabetes advocacy and education, women are leading the charge for change. Their voices, passion, and determination have become instrumental in shaping policies, raising awareness, and improving the lives of those affected by diabetes. With their unique perspectives and expertise, women are making a significant impact in promoting diabetes prevention, management, and care.

Women can break down barriers and reduce discrimination by educating healthcare professionals, employers, and communities about diabetes and its impact on women’s lives. Increasing awareness can also dispel misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding the condition.

I often find myself navigating the emotional and psychological aspects of diabetes, which has led me to advocate for better diabetes resources and support. I like to push for conversations around mental health and living with diabetes to transform the narrative around mental health and diabetes”, Daniela Rojas Jiménez, IDF Blue Circle Voice (Costa Rica).

As a diabetes psychologist, Daniela Rojas Jiménez, an IDF Blue Circle Voice from Costa Rica, often finds herself navigating the emotional and psychological aspects of diabetes.  Daniela advocates for better diabetes resources and support and pushes for conversations around mental health and living with diabetes. She believes that the voices of people with diabetes and mental health professionals can transform the narrative around mental health using the correct information on access and integrated care.

What the future of advocacy holds

Women with diabetes face unique challenges in healthcare, employment and social settings. The scarcity of gender-specific research and treatment options, the impact on reproductive health and the financial burden of diabetes management all contribute to these challenges.

Policy plays a vital role in ensuring equal access to healthcare, advocating for workplace accommodations and challenging societal stigmas. By advocating for policy changes, we can strive towards a society that values and supports women with diabetes.

Women and diabetes stream at the IDF World Diabetes Congress 2025

The IDF World Diabetes Congress 2025 in Bangkok, Thailand, on 7-10 April 2025, will feature a dedicated programme stream on women and diabetes that will look at the best evidence to treat and prevent diabetes and related conditions among women, including hyperglycaemia in pregnancy (HIP) and its long-term effects on mother and child. Learn more.

IDF Blue Circle Talk: “Women as leaders of change”

This online event was hosted by the International Diabetes Federation on 8 March 2024 to mark International Women’s Day. Women diabetes advocates examined their role in the global diabetes community and the change women’s voices bring to diabetes care and prevention.


Justine Evans is Content Editor at the International Diabetes Federation

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