National Women's Health Policy

3. Prioritise the needs of women with the highest risk of poor health

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Some health issues are common to many women. But they can be experienced quite differently, according to each woman’s culture, religious views, language, (dis)ability, sexuality, age, geographical location and socioeconomic status, and interactions with the health system.

There are some groups of women who can be at significantly higher risk of poor health.

Chapter Five discusses these groups which can include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women;
  • women in rural and remote areas;
  • women with a disability;
  • lesbian and bisexual women; and
  • women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Generating equity in health for women means eliminating unnecessary, avoidable or unfair differences in health among different groups of women.

All Australian women have the right to universal access to high quality and responsive basic health care, regardless of their geographic location, ethnicity, sexuality or financial resources. However, variations in women’s access to health services remain.

Under the social model of health, variations can be due to systemic factors. For example, difficulties that rural women experience in accessing services may be attributed not to their choice of location, but rather to a lack of service options and lack of choice in health care provider. This situation is often similar for women with disabilities.

Such barriers to access for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may include a lack of culturally responsive information about our health care system; a lack of culturally appropriate health services and information; and under-utilisation or poor or inappropriate use of interpreter services by professionals, leading to language barriers between women and their health care providers.

Other contributing factors can include resource allocation, skills and attitudes of service providers, housing, education, and transport and communications infrastructure.
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How we understand ‘health’ is influenced by our backgrounds. Some health professionals may only understand health within a Western biomedical model, and this may differ significantly from the more holistic models of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Consequences may include lack of awareness about available services, lowered expectations of the health care system and decreased satisfaction with care that can dissuade future attempts to access health care.450 451 452 453

Our sexuality has a significant influence too. Lesbian and bisexual women may not always feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality, and this may affect the health care they receive.

Australia is a diverse community; many women will experience multiple barriers to access, stemming from more than one form of discrimination or marginalisation. This policy promotes the practice of ensuring that equity is considered at all stages of planning, policy development and service delivery.

Any policies intended to address specific population groups also need to acknowledge the role of gender as impacting on people’s experience.

3.1 Explore the introduction of cultural competency modules into general health and medical education and training curriculum.
3.2 Consider opportunities to increase diverse women’s decision making in health at all levels; for example, through:
    • encouraging the views of diverse groups of women to be sought in health service planning and delivery, and represented on boards; and
    • ensuring language used to promote health services or provide health information is in formats accessible to diverse groups, especially those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, or for whom English is not a first language.
3.3 Consider reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s and other women’s participation and outcomes in women’s health services, such as cancer screening, sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne virus notifications, birth outcomes and chronic disease outcomes.