Gender and leprosy-related stigma in endemic areas: A systematic review

Janna I.R. Dijkstra, Wim H. Van Brakel, Marianne Van Elteren

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The social impact of leprosy is said to exacerbate existing gender inequalities, but what is the evidence for this? What are the differences and similarities in leprosy-related stigma experiences between men and women? Methods: A systematic search was done in PubMed, Web of Science, PsycInfo and CINAHL databases, using the web-based version of Mendeley and following PRISMA guidelines. Search terms used in the search syntaxes involved synonyms for leprosy, stigma, and sex or gender. Criteria for eligibility were articles providing data on leprosy-related stigma separate for men and/or women, Dutch or English language, access to full-text copy, information based on primary data (excluding reviews), and a sample group of leprosy-affected subjects above 15 years old, living in leprosy-endemic areas. Case reports were excluded. Findings: 18 articles met the criteria and were reviewed. They demonstrated a female gender disadvantage, in the social, health and/or psychological domain. This was evidenced by a higher percentage of women experiencing stigma, a lower quality of life score for women, and a higher mental burden among women compared to controls. Only one article indicated higher perceived stigma in men compared to women, in society and in social institutions. Overall, it was found that women's inferior position results in more rejection at family and community level, more difficulties in their marital position, more social avoidance, more concealment and treatment delay, and more self-stigmatisation. All these factors and the lower female social status mutually reinforce each other. It is argued that this gender inequality is the case in other neglected tropical diseases and stigmatising conditions as well. Conclusion: The consensus that female leprosy patients are more severely affected by leprosy-related stigma than male patients is supported by 12 of the 18 reviewed articles, and by other literature. These findings highlight a need for gender sensitivity in leprosy interventions to reduce leprosy-related stigma and its impact, especially among women and girls.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-440
Number of pages22
JournalLeprosy review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Gender
  • Leprosy
  • Neglected tropical diseases
  • Stigma

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