National Women's Health Policy

Health equity between women

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

There was overwhelming support for the inclusion of health equity between women as a central principle of the policy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were frequently identified as a priority because of their very high risk of poor health. The submission for a National Aboriginal Women’s Health Policy provided by the Aboriginal Women’s Talking Circle summarised the issues, and directions needed:

The issues, gaps and barriers which have been identified in this submission and which have continually impacted on and caused on-going devastation and hardship to Australia’s Aboriginal women, their extended family members and closely connected national communities, need to be addressed through the development and delivery of holistic strategies to improve the health status of Australia’s Aboriginal women and their extended families. Many of the identified issues, gaps and barriers to services are significant. However, while some of these will require a huge re-orientation and shift in health service delivery and need to be underpinned by immense funding, other recommendations seem to be more straightforward. These latter require less funding commitment or restructuring of services and, if common sense prevails, and these recommendations are acknowledged, they would improve the health status and lifestyle of Aboriginal women and their extended families thus lessening the burden on secondary and tertiary health care systems.
(National Aboriginal Women’s Health Policy Submission: Talking Circle: AWHN p. 5)

Other groups of women who were frequently identified in the consultations as being at greater risk of poor health included, among others, women with a disability; women in rural and remote areas; migrant and refugee women; women as carers; older women; and lesbian and bisexual women. The consultations made it clear that those with the fewest resources may be forced to make health decisions on whatever treatment they can afford or access rather than the treatment that is best for their needs. Those who are discriminated against, or who cannot find culturally appropriate services, may withdraw from seeking help altogether.

Submissions addressing health equity between women were often clear statements of fact that communicated in simple terms the lack of equity between various groups of women within Australia: The health outcomes of rural and remote women, and their treatment options, cannot be considered in any way and by any measure as equal to that afforded women who live in metropolitan Australia. The differences between accessibility to medical services from an urban centre to that from a rural, remote centre are immense and all negative.
(Country Women’s Association of Australia Submission p. 7)

Health problems are compounded by bisexual and lesbian women frequently not accessing preventative and responsive healthcare services at all, or delaying their access… due to fear of discrimination and stigma. Those who do access services frequently receive ill or uninformed advice and inappropriate treatment… [for example] frequent instances of GPs incorrectly telling lesbian patients that they had no risk of HPV, and did not require pap smears.
(National LGBT Health Alliance Submission p. 8)

Many important health messages are not accessible to people with [a] disability from non English speaking backgrounds and/or their carers. The messages are traditionally in English and are not produced in community languages… in alternative formats such as Braille or large print.

Where information is available in other languages, it is often only available in writing and presented in formal language that is difficult to comprehend. Many culturally and linguistically diverse women—particularly those from the emerging migrant communities from Somalia, Sudan, etc.—do not have an education and thus are still unable to make contact with a service provider.

(National Ethnic Disability Alliance Submission pp. 2–3)

The consultations supported the active participation of diverse groups of women in policy design, and the implementation of the strategies that affect them, to help ensure that health services and messages are designed for the people who need them the most. The submissions strongly agreed that the expertise of women within targeted communities should be called on to help implement local programs aimed at reducing inequity between groups of women.