Women and diabetes: Worlds apart?

DiabetesSisters: Healthy and connected

Tell us why you started the organisation DiabetesSisters.
I started DiabetesSisters in 2008 after many years of feeling lonely and isolated as a woman with diabetes. I always knew how valuable it would be to have a close female friend to discuss the daily challenges of diabetes, but it wasn’t on the cards for me then. When I was pregnant with my daughter, the feelings of loneliness and anxiety hit a high point for me.

That’s when I really began to think about how connecting with other women would not only benefit me, but lots of other women with diabetes. I launched DiabetesSisters online in 2008 with the hope of bringing together women with diabetes from around the world to learn from each other, support each other, and even advocate for each other.

What are the main challenges facing women with diabetes in the USA?
Women face a lot of challenges today. For their families, women serve as household administrators, heads of public relations, mentors, psychologists, nutritionists, decorators and family doctors.

Adding 24/7 diabetes management to an already full plate is a huge challenge. Throughout life, women with diabetes must manage the challenges of hormone fluctuations with little help. Women with diabetes are also at higher risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease, depression, eating disorders, body image issues, and osteoporosis.

There is so much blame and shame already with the disease, but women are criticised and scrutinised much more intensely.

There has been very little research conducted on the gender differences in diabetes, so this void in current healthcare research creates a big challenge for women with diabetes in the US.

Do you think issues around gender equality in the US are still an obstacle for women with diabetes?
Unfortunately, I do. Women play an important role in society, but that role brings a lot of responsibility. In America, the tides are changing and there are a lot more men taking over more responsibilities on the home front. But it’s not equal yet.

I feel that women, especially women with type 2 diabetes, are treated with much more disdain than their male counterparts. There is so much blame and shame already with the disease, but women are criticised and scrutinised much more intensely.

When it comes to finding speakers with type 2 diabetes at our conference, it is amazingly difficult. I have observed how much more willing men are to come out and talk about their diabetes. There are many well-known male athletes, actors, and even singers with diabetes. These men are usually heralded by the public. Women don’t receive the same reception when they come out about their diabetes.

Brandy Barnes, MSW, holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is founder and CEO of DiabetesSisters, a non-profit organisation with nearly 10,000 members worldwide