News and Events

Two positions vacant

Crisis Response Outreach Worker and Health Promotion Worker – Sexual and Reproductive Health 10 month contract (maternity leave)

Closing dates in September, check here for more info.

Reframing the asylum seeker debate

The western suburbs of Melbourne have long been a settlement area for refugees, welcoming newly-arrived communities from South-East Asia, Africa, the Balkans and increasingly from the Middle East and South Asia. The west also houses asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims in the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre as well as those on bridging visas and in community detention.

Prior to August 2012, men – acting as the scout for families back home – comprised the majority of those claiming asylum by boat. The introduction of the ‘no advantage’ rule that prevents asylum seekers from bringing family members to Australia through the family migration stream has led to an increase in the numbers of whole families embarking on dangerous boat journeys and arriving in Australia, or dying on the way.

This shift is just one aspect of a long-term bipartisan policy approach of ‘border hardening’ that severely curtails the ‘regular’ or ‘legalised’ options for entry into Australia. Through a matrix of legal and policy changes over the last 20 years, in particular a strict visa regime and the strengthening of border control techniques, a succession of Australian governments have sought to prevent the arrival of asylum seekers from certain ‘high risk’ countries (that is, countries generating high numbers of asylum seekers). According to Monash University researcher Leanne Weber, the majority of border control occurs remotely through networks of outposted Department of Immigration staff, electronic screening of airline passengers, and legal repercussions for airlines allowing undocumented passengers on board – rather than on the high seas.


What will you do for women’s health and wellbeing?

This is the broad policy question posed by the Australian Women’s Health Network in a letter to the four major political parties; the Australian Labor Party, The Liberal Party of Australia, The National Party of Australia and the Australian Greens.

More specifically, tell us…

  1. What is your political party policy on funding hospital and primary care health services?
  2. In government, what action will your party take to consult with women and make them central to health reform proposals?
  3. In government, what action will your party take to infuse gender analysis, gender sensitive research, women’s perspectives and gender equity goals into policies, projects and institutional ways of working?
  4. In government, what action will your party take to protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and improve health outcomes in this area?
  5. In government, what action will your party take for mental health reform that:
    • addresses the specific needs of women
    • includes strategies that simultaneously support the prevention of mental illnesses, and
    • increase the overall well-being of women living with existing mental health conditions?
  6. In government, what action will your party take to put into place a comprehensive women’s health policy and funded program?
  7. In government, what action will your party take to achieve gender equity across the social determinants of health?

And here‘s what they said.

WHW in the news

Crisis-housing shortage putting women, children at risk

31 July 2013 | Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay Weekly

AN URGENT investment in crisis accommodation for victims of family violence is essential to keep women and children in Melbourne’s west from becoming homeless, according to service providers.

Women’s Health West family violence manager Jacky Tucker said it had been decades since any serious investment was made in boosting crisis accommodation for women and children fleeing violent homes.

“For some women, family violence means they have to leave the home,” Ms Tucker said.

“In those circumstances they are effectively homeless; they have no safe home they can go to.”

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows family violence remains the leading cause of homelessness in Victoria and the lack of housing options leaves too many women and children at risk.

One in three people seeking assistance from homeless support agencies are escaping family violence and one in five is aged under 10.

For the rest of this article by Benjamin Millar please click here.

Legislating women’s bodies: abortion and gender inequity

A number of important changes concerning abortion are underway around Australia that WHW and our supporters must keep abreast of to ensure women’s access to this important health service. Here is an overview of the changes and some examples of what Women’s Health West is doing to support women to exercise their reproductive right to safe, legal abortion.

Firstly, abortion is on the way to being available to more women that need it, with medical abortion being approved late last year for wider distribution through trained medical practitioners across Australia. Mifepristone (also known as RU486) and misoprostol are the drugs that make up medical abortion and are safe and effective within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. The World Health Organisation has categorised mifepristone and misoprostol as essential medicines and they have been available in some other countries for decades. However, they have had very limited availability in Australia since 2006. This will be the first time that the drugs are available Australia-wide.

Despite this progress and the drugs’ demonstrated safety for use in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, they have only been approved for use in the first seven weeks in Australia. As for many women, seven weeks is still very early and most requests for early termination are made beyond this point, access to the drugs will continue to be restricted.

Since this approval for wider distribution, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has recommended that mifepristone and misoprostol be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This recommendation was made based on an application by Marie Stopes International Australia and supported by WHW and the Western Region Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion Partnership that WHW leads. In our submissions to the PBAC, we argued that medical abortion is a safe, effective and non-invasive alternative for early termination that has a success rate of up to 98 per cent.

While PBAC’s recommendation awaits federal government approval, government subsidy of the drugs through the PBS would mean that the cost of obtaining a medical abortion will be greatly reduced. WHW expects that equity in terms of abortion service delivery will be improved, particularly for women living in regional, rural and remote areas. More of these women would have timely access to affordable services. Wider use of the drugs could also offer public hospitals greater opportunity and flexibility in the provision of early pregnancy termination services.

As medical abortion is only available in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, clinical abortion services are an ongoing necessity. WHW has continued to prioritise access to abortion in the western region as one of the actions in Action for Equity, our regional sexual and reproductive health plan.

While the availability of medical abortion is applicable to women across Australia, laws regarding abortion vary from state to state. Tasmania is in the process making significant changes in relation to abortion legislation, just as Victoria did in 2008. The Tasmanian process is similar to what happened in Victoria: a bill was introduced to Parliament to remove abortion from the criminal code and make the procedure legal up to 16 weeks gestation. Under the proposed law, a woman requesting an abortion after 16 weeks must have agreement from two doctors. In Victoria, similar rules apply but the gestation limit is 24 weeks. Of note, the draft Tasmanian legislation includes a proposal for ‘access zones’ meaning that there would be a ban on protesting against abortion within 150 metres of an abortion clinic. The access zone clause does not feature in the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act and protesting continues to be a problem in this state. Women attending abortion clinics are often subject to harassment and intimidating behaviour that obstructs access to clinics through fear, intimidation and the circulation of misleading and incorrect information as women enter a clinic. The legal remedies available in Victoria to restrict this activity are limited. Incorporating access zones into the draft Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill is an excellent way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of both staff and patients.

The Lower House has passed the bill to remove abortion from the Tasmanian criminal code and it is now before the Upper House.

The final major proposed change to abortion in Australia is a bill currently before the federal government. This bill seeks to prohibit the use of Medicare funding for abortion carried out for purposes of sex selection. The rationale behind the referral of the bill is concern that while evidence shows the termination of large numbers of pregnancies in countries such as China and India due to families preferring boy children, this practice must be prohibited in Australia. WHW made a submission challenging this assumption to a Senate Inquiry on the bill in support of our sister organisation, Women’s Health Victoria. While we oppose sex selective abortion due to the deeply entrenched gender inequality it reflects, we do not believe that placing restrictions on women’s access to abortion is the most appropriate way of redressing such inequality. The efforts of countries that have tried to prohibit sex-selective abortions have been unsuccessful. Given the nature of this problem, if implemented in Australia there is potential to discriminate against certain groups of women. Above all, there is no comprehensive evidence to suggest that sex selective abortion is even occurring in Australia, or that Medicare is used to fund such procedures. Australia’s ratio of male to female births is entirely normal.

We believe that restricting abortion services for purposes of sex selection has the potential to compromise women’s access to abortion, which is a vital health service for women in Australia and an important sexual and reproductive health right.

While some of the changes outlined above show positive steps along the road to women in Australia exercising their reproductive rights and choice, there are also signs that women’s ability to control their own bodies remains under threat. WHW have long advocated that the Victorian government develop a sexual and reproductive health strategy. Under such a strategy, we would like a strong commitment to the promotion and protection of women’s sexual and reproductive rights through legislation and public policy.

Check out our newsletter to read more about sexual and reproductive health in the western region.