By Beryl J Spencer
NCWQ Health Adviser
According to the World Health Organisation, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Therefore, when thinking about health and the impacts on women’s lives it is necessary to consider where women live, the work they do, their family and social roles as well as the opportunities they have for relaxation and self care.
It is known that the higher the income someone has the greater is their potential for health. In most countries income is closely linked to education. Societies with the best outcomes on a number of health and social scales are those with the least variation between high and low income earners. One way this can be achieved is with social support systems that keep this difference to a minimum.
Therefore, it is important for the NCWQ to continue its bursary program. These programs assist and enable girls to undertake and complete education and indirectly impact on their health. The NCWQ can also advocate against systems that adversely affect women’s earnings. These can include advocating for equal pay for equivalent work; review of superannuation systems and social support programs that minimize the gap between men and women and between the high and low income earners.
The following are issues that the NCWQ should be aware of because of their impact on women’s health.
Women’s homelessness is usually linked to their decreased earnings because of their caring and parenting roles. If a woman is homeless she is more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. In Queensland, even though 40% of homeless people are women, there are 10 times more beds for homeless men than women.
Family violence and sexual assault:
Violence is a risk factor for homelessness. An ABS survey in 2005 found that in the previous 12 months 4.7% of all women had experienced physical violence and 1.6% sexual violence. In 2003, 81% of female victims of sexual violence knew their offender while for that year only 47% of male victims did. In that same year, 49% of female victims were killed as a result of a domestic altercation. An Access Economics report for the Office for the Status of Women estimated that the total cost in 2003-04 for domestic violence was $8.1 billion. A report on violence against women for VicHealth in June 2004 found that ‘violence is responsible for more ill-health and premature death among Victorian women under the age of 45 than any other well-known risk factors including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.’
Our current lifestyles put us at risk of a number of chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. We don’t get enough physical activity, our diets often include insufficient fruits and vegetables, we smoke, we have risky alcohol intake and are a leading country for obesity. While most women fear developing breast cancer, they are often unaware that heart disease is the no. 1 killer of Australian women and are possibly 3 times more like to die from this than breast cancer.
Sexual and reproductive health:
From menstruation to menopause, women’s sexual and reproductive health impacts on their lives. The rates in Australia of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia especially in young females aged 15-29 and young Aboriginal women aged 15-35 is increasing. While teenage pregnancy rates are falling, Australia still has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy compared to other developed countries. Indigenous teenage women are 5 times more likely to give birth as non-Indigenous teenage women.
Indigenous women and women from non-English speaking backgrounds are over represented in maternal death statistics.
Mental and emotional health:
Pregnancy and birth are a key time for women to experience anxiety and depression. The Queensland Maternal and Perinatal Quality Council Report 2011, showed that for 2004-08, suicide was the leading cause of death for women within 1 year of giving birth. A Price Waterhouse Coopers report found that for 2010, the cost of postnatal depression to the Australian economy was $500 million.
According to beyondblue, 1 in 5 Australian women will experience depression and 1 in 3 will experience anxiety in their lifetime. And women experience these at higher rates than men. There is an increasing amount of research into the links between physical ill health (including some chronic diseases) and emotional ill health (such as depression).
Access to services:
A key issue for all women is access to and choice of services. Not all Queensland women have equal access to all services they require. Women living in rural, regional and remote areas often experience poorer health than women living in urban Queensland. To access the services they require, women may need to travel hundreds of kilometres, which increases the cost to them and means they are less likely to seek the care and treatments they require to prevent ill health or to maintain their health.