National Women's Health Policy

Achievements of the First National Women's Health Policy

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

The 1989 policy aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of all women in Australia with a focus on those most at risk and on making the health care system more responsive to women’s needs.

Seven priority health issues for women were identified in the 1989 policy:

  • reproductive health and sexuality;
  • health of ageing women;
  • emotional and mental health;
  • violence against women;
  • occupational health and safety;
  • health needs of women as carers; and
  • health effects of sex-role stereotyping on women.
In addition, the policy identified five key action areas in response to women’s concerns about the structures that deliver health care and information. These were:
  • improvements in health services for women;
  • provision of health information;
  • research and data collection;
  • women’s participation in decision making in health; and
  • training of health care providers.
The 1989 policy has been used as the basis for program development and service planning for women’s health services at all levels of government over the past two decades. Under the National Women’s Health Program a number of women’s health centres were built or extended; new health information and education strategies were developed in a variety of community languages; and specialised training on women’s health issues was developed for health providers.

The 1989 policy also resulted in the establishment of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. The study is a landmark longitudinal population-based survey over a 20-year period that examines the health of more than 40,000 women.

The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health provides valuable information on women’s health and wellbeing across three generations. It examines most aspects of life, including physical health, relationships, reproductive health, body weight, emotional and mental health, paid work and retirement, ageing and caring roles.

Participants have been surveyed at least four times over the past 12 years and the results of the surveys are widely used by government and academics. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health data have been analysed for reports on topics such as reproductive health, women’s health and ageing and an upcoming report on the health of women in rural and remote Australia. Further reports are planned for release over the next two years.

Feedback through the consultation process for the development of this policy consistently recognised the main strength of the 1989 policy as being the principle that health should be understood in a social context. There is also recognition that the achievements made under the 1989 policy are a product of the power of consultation and communication and that these remain important elements in the planning and delivery of health services that are suited to the needs of women in all their diversity.