National Women's Health Policy

1. Highlight the significance of gender as a key determinant of women's health and wellbing

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Despite significant gains in recent years, women still have lower pay, more caring responsibilities and higher overall workloads than men, especially when household work is taken into account. These factors impact on women’s wellbeing, health outcomes and mental health, and affect how they experience illness or disability. They can also impact on women’s access to and experience of the health care system.

Gender is fundamental to women’s health, and a vital consideration in the development of ahealth system that is more responsive to women’s health needs.

Gender health equity strives for equitable opportunity and access to the social and economic resources required for good health. Efforts to reduce health inequities require an understanding of sex (biology) and gender (social relations) as they can exacerbate, sustain or even create health inequities.449 As the World Health Organisation Commission on Social Determinants of Health argues, ‘taking action to improve gender equity in health and to address women’s rights to health is one of the most direct and potent ways to reduce health inequities and ensure effective use of
health resources’.

Gender in policy development

Considering gender as part of policy and planning frameworks helps to ensure that women’s experiences are accounted for in planning, facilitating access to services and information and improving delivery of health services.

There is a need for broad action to raise awareness of the gendered nature of health and ageing, and prompt change towards continuing to improve the health of all women.

This policy endorses and promotes the practice of ensuring that gender is considered at all stages of planning and policy development.

Listening to women

Women should play a central role in developing initiatives that improve the health and wellbeing of their communities. Effective policies and programs are those developed in ways that incorporate the views and aspirations of the women who will be affected by them. Women must have opportunities to be involved in policy development, health planning, and health decision-making at all levels.
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It is important to work towards supporting women to play a leadership role, whilst regonising that women from marginalised groups may find it more difficult to participate in meetings and other forums.

There are a number of ways to ensure women can participate in policy development processes. Policy makers, planners, and health service providers should be encouraged to:
  • use a diverse range of settings and ways to invite women to talk about what is appropriate and what works;
  • seek advice and support from professionals who have demonstrated their commitment and success in gender-appropriate service provision;
  • work in partnership with advocacy organisations; and
  • seek expert assistance in interpretation of data about women’s health.
Participation by women in health decision-making can be increased by support for mentorship programs and provision of professional development opportunities to increase representation on decision-making bodies. Such decision-making bodies should have family- and carer-friendly practices—for example, meeting at times that suit women and addressing childcare needs.

1.1 Explore opportunities for sex and gender to be increasingly considered in policy, planning and decision making
1.2 Explore the introduction of gender modules into general health and medical education and training curriculum.
1.3 Consider opportunities to increase women’s decision making in health at all levels; for example through:
    • encouraging women to seek appointments to local boards and committees involved in managing health services;
    • exploring whether AppointWomen, the government register that gives women the opportunity to be considered for appointment to a variety of Australian boards and other decision making bodies, has strong representation from a wide range of women with health backgrounds.
1.4 Explore opportunities to build on the gender equality assessment process being conducted by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to analyse how gender equality is promoted through government policy and programs and to promote improvements on this.

1.5 Promoting the use of the relevant National Women’s Health Alliances within the Department of Health and Ageing to provide the opportunity for women to work directly with departments on health-related policy issues.