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We’re the peak body for gender equity, women’s health and the prevention of violence against women

Joint Statement: Victorian Women are Sick of Small Change

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Are you #sickofsmallchange? Write to your MP.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Victorian women have gotten sicker, more anxious, more financially insecure, all while shouldering a disproportionate burden of care and domestic work.

And yet, state government investment in Women’s Health Services – whose core mission is to support and advocate for Victorian women’s health, safety and wellbeing – has stagnated, with services receiving $2.05 per woman, per year.

The Victorian state budget presents us with an historic opportunity – to innovate and remodel the way we work, the way we look after each other, the way we rebound economically. Now more than ever, Victorian women need us to invest in them and their health.

We’re calling for Women’s Health Services funding to be increased by $5.75 per woman, per year. And we want to see first-time investments in women with disabilities, Indigenous women, LGBTIQ women, trans and gender-diverse people and migrant and refugee women, too. 

Email your State MP!

Victorian Women are sick of small change:

Underinvestment in women’s health increases illness and depression

The CEOs of Victoria’s 12 women’s health services are calling for an immediate uplift in investment to secure the health and wellbeing of Victorian women. The release of data that shows Victorian women have gotten sicker, more anxious and depressed since the commencement of the COVID19 pandemic is alarming and should spur immediate action.

We’re calling for Women’s Health Services funding to be increased from $2.05 per woman to $5.75 per woman. We want first time investments for women with disabilities, Indigenous women and LGBTIQ women and trans and gender diverse people and a boost for migrant and refugee women, too.

Victorian women are sick of their health being short-changed.

Victorian women are tired of their health services being in crisis.

 “Victorian women are sick of small change. Women’s Health Services were funded $4.35 per woman when we started, now it’s down to $2.05 per woman. This is not enough to beat the crisis we’re seeing in women’s health in Victoria. This spare change funding is making women sicker,” said Tricia Currie, Chair, Women’s Health Services Council.

“Before the pandemic, women’s health was under significant strain, now it is so much worse. It is essential that we have an adequately funded women’s health services sector to be able to respond to the crisis in women’s health. And we need new and boosted investments in LGBTIQ people, women with disabilities, Aboriginal women and migrant and refugee women whose health is disproportionately affected by inequality,” said Ms Currie, Chair.

Representing the interests of 3 million women across every region of Victoria, CEOs are coming together to address the deterioration of gender-equal health outcomes.

A combination of the COVID19 pandemic, coupled with a history of short-changing women when determining health investment, has resulted in serious deterioration of the health of Victoria’s women including:

The continued erosion of Victorian Women’s mental health.

  • In 2020 38.2% of Victorian women reported having ever been diagnosed with depression or anxiety compared with 29.0% five years ago.
  • In 2020 an estimated 27% of Victorian women reported high or very high psychological stress compared to 18.% in 2015.
  • Women are also more likely to be hospitalised for self-harm in comparison to men. Of the 6,185 Victorian hospital admissions for self-harm in 2019, 4,046 (65%) were female and 2,139 (35%) were male.

he exacerbation of incidents of Violence against Women  

  • Since 2017, reported incidents of sexual offences have grown, with 14.5 sexual offences per 20,000 persons for female victims compared to 2.5 per 10,000 persons for male victims. In 2020, female victims of sexual offences in Victoria outnumber male victims at a ratio of 5.6:1
  • Since 2017, incidents of family violence have also increased, with a particular increase in the far south east of the State, where 2019-20 Bushfires and COVID19 pandemic have combined to make the Local Governments of Wellington, East Gippsland and Latrobe the most dangerous locations in Victoria for women at risk of family violence.

The worsening of women’s fitness, body mass index and heart disease

  • an estimated 44.6% of women in Victoria are overweight (pre-obese or obese), based on self-reported body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher, up from 18.1% pre-pandemic to 2.8% to 20.9%.
  • Less than half of all Victorian women are getting the recommended level of physical activity and daily exercise
  • 34% increase in heart disease diagnosis

Poorer Sexual and Reproductive Health

  • In 2020 we saw concerning trends in sexually transmitted disease, with an 11% increase in syphilis, and increased cases of Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Hepatitis B.
  • Meanwhile, pelvic pain that affect 15 per cent of women of reproductive age has never been addressed due to gender bias means it has been stigmatised, dismissed and related conditions are poorly diagnosed and treated.

 Growing cases of cancer and less access to cancer treatment

  • Although there is a rapidly growing population of Victorian women diagnosed with cancer, with varying levels of need for ongoing practical and psychosocial support, in 2020, there were
    • 8% less cancer diagnostic procedures,
    • 16% lower breast cancer procedure and
    • 13% decrease in gynaecological cancer procedures.

Rising cases of dementia

  • Women suffering from dementia has risen from 7.0% in 2019 to 8.9% in 2020. There is a significant gender gap in dementia patients, with Victorian women suffering from the disease at double the rate of Victorian men. In 2019, an estimated 60,380 women were living with dementia in Victoria, compared with 34,553 men.

Preventing illness and disease in Victorian women is core business of the State Government, helping to keep women healthy and well, contributors to our economy and saving considerable costs in acute, tertiary health service provision, especially hospitalisations.

Together, we call for the Victorian Government to act NOW in addressing the crisis of Victorian women’s health. If we want Victorian Women’s Health to improve and to promote COVID-19 recovery and resilience in our communities we have to shift our minds from coins to cash.

Further quotations offering regional perspectives on the poor health of Victoria’s women is available at the end of this statement

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  • Gender Equity Victoria
  • Women’s Health Victoria
  • Women with Disabilities Victoria
  • Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health
  • Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West
  • Women’s Health Grampians
  • Gippsland Women’s Health
  • Women’s Health Goulburn North East
  • Women’s Health Loddon Mallee
  • Women’s Health in the South East
  • Women’s Health in the North
  • GEN WEST
  • Women’s Health East

Quotes from leaders of Women’s Health Services across Victoria

 Metropolitan Women’s Health Services

  1. Women’s Health in the South East

“The evidence is in. Women need their health and wellbeing looked after now,” said Kit McMahon, CEO of Women’s Health in the South East (WHISE).

For too long women have held the mental and physical load of our society – in our expectation of women doing unpaid care, in their take-home pay, in the insufficient health care they receive, in the violence that they experience, in their homelessness and even in their retirement.

“The issues women face across our region are significant. In the inner city region of Port Phillip, more women than men are self-harming and are hospitalised because of this, which is double the rate across Victoria. This is the same in the outer southern suburbs around Casey where just under triple the number of women are being hospitalised for self-harm compared to the rest of the state.”

“Women are weary and COVID has exacerbated it. If we really are going to recover from the pandemic and create a truly equal society then it is time to show that we do respect women enough to care for them,” Ms McMahon concluded.

  1. GenWest (previously Women’s Health West)

“We have not received a real increase in funding since the day we were founded in 1988,” said Kate Phillips, CEO of GenWest. Concerningly, Ms Phillips said that the funding allocation for women’s health failed to consider population growth.

“With two of the fastest growing government areas in Victoria, the population in the West has doubled in the last 34 years, which means our capacity to do work has in effect been halved,” Ms Phillips added.  Furthermore, she said that within GenWest’s service catchment area, there were 15,475 incidents of family violence reported by police alone in 2021, with more than double the clients needing mental health support and reporting risk of homelessness compared to before the pandemic.
“We must resource large scale, evidence based primary prevention interventions with urgency, if want to see these staggering rates of violence decrease and create the generational change we know is possible,” Ms Phillips concluded.

  1. Women’s Health East

 “In Melbourne’s eastern region, we are seeing high rates of women self-harming that result in hospital admission with six of our seven local government areas sitting above the state average. This is alarming given that we know that self-harm is linked to increased risk of suicidal behaviour and suicide,” said Elly Taylor, CEO of Women’s Health East. “Over 40% of women living in the Yarra Ranges report having even been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, which is a 14% jump over 5 years. Women in Melbourne’s east are experiencing significant rates of poor mental health due to a chronic underinvestment in health promotion and prevention initiatives. We need urgent action now to ensure the health and wellbeing of women in our region,” Ms Taylor concluded.

  1. Women’s health in the north

 “Melbourne’s northern region is multiculturally diverse, with nearly one third of residents born overseas and nearly one third speaking a language other than English at home. With continued net reductions in funding to Women’s Health Services over the past thirty years, migrant and refugee women’s health outcomes and access to health services will plummet further downward”, said Helen Riseborough, CEO of Women’s Health in the North (WHIN).

According to Ms Risborough, the pandemic COVID-19 and economic uncertainty has compounded existing social and economic inequality of women in northern Melbourne region. She added that family violence incidents have grown.

“In the City of Hume, for example, the number of women experiencing family violence and reporting incidents to police is a rate of 160 compared with a state average of 123 cases per 10,000 in 2020,” Ms Riseborough explained.

Furthermore, Ms Riseborough said that Demand for WHIN’s services – for sexual and reproductive health information and rights, for gendered violence prevention, for financial literacy and capability services, and family violence services – has grown hugely in the past two years. “A lack of investment in the future of women’s health is a failure on the part of government. Resourcing women’s health to deliver primary prevention services means that women are enabled to live healthy and safe lives, and reach their full economic potential. The whole of society benefits,” Ms Riseborough explained.

 Regional Women’s Health Services

  1. Women’s Health Loddon Mallee

 “In the North West of Victoria, the health and wellbeing data maps are bright red, flagging alarming rates of poor health for rural women,” said Tricia Currie, CEO of Women’s Health Loddon Mallee. She further added that over 50% of the women in the Shires of Loddon and Central Goldfields have experienced anxiety and /or depression. Meanwhile, family violence rates in Mildura, Swan Hill, Central Goldfields and Greater Bendigo are among the highest in the state. Before COVID women’s health was declining. This is the time to uplift the investment in women’s health services and primary prevention  for a recovery which will benefit all.

“COVID has exacerbated gender inequality, with women being left to shoulder the burden of the pandemic and put the health needs of others before their own, significantly impacting their mental health and wellbeing. We need investment now to engage women in prevention and build their resilience through this crisis and beyond. This is the time to uplift the investment in women’s health services and primary prevention  for a recovery which will benefit all,” said Ms Currie.

  1. Women’s Health Grampians

“An already concerning outlook for women’s health and wellbeing in the Grampians region has been further exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Marianne Hendron, CEO of Women’s Health Grampians.

Ms Hendron further added that four local council areas in the Grampians region feature in the top five in Victoria for teen birth rates, with Yarriambiack having a rate almost 4 times the state average. In addition to that, according to Ms Hendron, access to sexual and reproductive health services and support is extremely limited especially for young people in remote areas.

“Rates of mental illness and self-harm also significantly exceed state averages in several areas, as do reported family violence incidents, particularly in Northern Grampians, Horsham and Ararat,” Ms Hendron explained.

Ms Hendron added that due to economic disadvantage, 3 council areas record the highest rates in Victoria for gynaecological, bowel and lung cancers in women. Furthermore, the prospects for women’s economic equality, and consequently better health and wellbeing, are hampered by limited access to childcare, which is simply non-existent in many towns, diminished by the pandemic. “Women and girls in the Grampians are being further disadvantaged by underinvestment in their health,” Ms Hendron concluded.

  1. Women’s Health Goulburn North East

“Women across our region live the impact of chronic and ongoing under-investment in their health, wellbeing and gender equality everyday. Over half all women in Benalla – 53.5% –  have experienced anxiety or depression at some stage in their lives.”  said Amanda Kelly, CEO of Women’s Health Goulburn North East. Amanda further added that family violence rates in Wangaratta are higher than the state average. It means, Amanda said, women carry the care burden at home in every single local government area in our region – and this data represents our pre-COVID normal.

“COVID-19 has decimated women’s health and wellbeing, and gender inequality persists in northeast Victoria and the Goulburn Valley. Without dedicated investment in our services and primary prevention, the health and wellbeing of women in our region will continue to decline,” Amanda concluded.

  1. Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West

“A lack of adequate investment in primary prevention, sustained over decades, has led to poor health for women in the Barwon South West further compounded by COVID-19 pandemic” said Emma Mahony, CEO of Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West.

 Ms Mahony further added that in her rural and regional area of services, there are barriers to accessing services, such as availability of local and affordable services, transport and confidence that community members privacy is guaranteed.

“High rates of family violence, depression and anxiety all echo the need to address the health needs of rural and regional women urgently. Now is the time to invest in bridge the health gap between men and women; and rural and metropolitan communities,” said Ms Mahony.

  1. Gippsland Women’s Health

“On the back of significant climate change disasters, the COVID pandemic has further exacerbated the already high rates of gender inequality, health inequality and violence for women living in rural areas,” said Kate Graham, CEO of Gippsland Women’s Health. She further added that women have shouldered the burden of the pandemic at home, in front line work and in important regional infrastructure such as agriculture, tourism and other rural businesses.  Consequently, we are now seeing even greater incidence of violence against women, anxiety and depression, psychological distress, homelessness, harmful drinking, inactivity and obesity, sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy and smoking in rural areas like Gippsland.

“The continued lack of timely and appropriate access to a range of health services and support options is no longer acceptable to our women and we call for a greater investment so that rural and remote women can remain healthy and safe and continue to contribute to Victoria’s recovery,” said Ms Graham concluding.

Statewide services

  1. Women’s Health Victoria

“It is clear from the data that women’s health across the state has reached a crisis point. Social, economic and health data all show women have borne the brunt of the pandemic, further entrenching gender inequality and impacting the lives of women, families and communities,” said Dianne Hill, CEO of Women’s Health Victoria. According to Dianne, women have shouldered the burden of care at home and on the frontline workforce, while experiencing job losses and financial hardship in other industries, as well as difficulty accessing vital health services and increased mental distress.

“We need urgent and dedicated investment in primary prevention through the women’s health program to reverse this decline so we can support and sustain women to build a strong, resilient and gender equal society where no-one is left behind,” Ms Hill concluded.

  1. Women with Disabilities Victoria

“Women with disabilities face higher health service requirements and greater service access barriers,” said Nadia Mattiazzo, CEO of Women with Disabilities Victoria. She further added that current funding for essential capacity building has not increased with rising demands including our increasing demographic, our pandemic requirements, and preparing for our looming climate change needs.

  1. Multicultural Centre of Women’s Health

“Migrant and refugee women have lower levels of access to health services and as a result, have poorer health outcomes than the general Victorian population,” said Adele Murdolo, CEO of Multicultural Centre of Women’s Health.

“If we continue to reduce funding to women’s health services, migrant women’s health will continue to deteriorate, and the health inequality divide will become a chasm,” said Ms Murdolo concluding.

Media enquiries: communications@genvic.org.au

 

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