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Let’s talk sexual and reproductive health

A Word from the CEO, Dr Robyn Gregory – whw news edition one, 2016

SafeSexintheWestDid you know that around 80,000 new chlamydia infections are reported in Australia each year and that chlamydia notifications have increased over the past three years in Melbourne’s west? Or that the majority of these cases are young people?

Or that only 53 per cent of sexually active young people in Melbourne’s west report that they practice safe sex by using a condom?

These statistics are a small snapshot of sexual health and reproductive realities in Melbourne’s west and in Australia. They do, however, demonstrate how sexual and reproductive health requires strengthening in the overall public health conversation and national and state policy responses. And they illustrate a need for urgent action in Melbourne’s western region.

Women’s Health West takes a regional approach to redressing the social determinants that cause sexual and reproductive ill health as part of the Action for Equity partnership. This is a four-year sexual health and reproductive health promotion plan for Melbourne’s west involving partners from local government, community and health sectors.

Action for Equity sees us working in schools, prisons, workplaces, sports centres and with health and community services across Melbourne’s west to educate a range of target populations including young women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women living with a disability, sex workers and women from refugee and migrant backgrounds to ultimately prevent sexual and reproductive ill health.

While Action for Equity works successfully at a regional level, it would benefit by being part of a state-wide and nationally-focussed approach. The absence of a federal and state policy framework limits the impact of our work in sexual and reproductive health, with public policy largely concentrating on prevention of infections or unplanned pregnancy – an individual educational or behavioural change approach – rather than broader systemic change to the factors that cause poor sexual or reproductive health, such as violence against women, homophobic attitudes or limited access to resources in rural communities.

The development of a national and state-wide policy would allow us to work within a co-designed framework integrating an overarching evidence-based approach for research, program and service development, implementation and evaluation. If we want to achieve true health equity, we must promote more strategic policy action on redressing the social determinants of sexual and reproductive health. That is one of Women’s Health West’s goals.

This comment is from the latest edition of whw news, make sure you have a read and find out more about our work in sexual and reproductive health in Melbourne’s west. #SafeSexintheWest

Open letter to the PM supporting migrant women escaping violence

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) and 134 other organisations have written to the Prime Minister, urging the Government to ensure that migrant women on temporary visas are supported when escaping violent relationships, as a minimum, through access to crisis payments.

This call echoes the recommendation by the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence that women escaping violence must be entitled to crisis payments regardless of their visa status.

FECCA Chairperson Joe Caputo said, “Safety from domestic and family violence is a fundamental human right and must not be contingent on an individual’s visa status.”

Women’s Health West is proud to join FECCA and be one of the 134 organisations to sign this open letter.

Read the Open letter to the Prime Minister and the Domestic Violence NSW and FECCA Open letter_media release

 

Royal Commission into Family Violence report due 29 March

RCFV_1The Royal Commission into Family Violence is due to deliver its report and recommendations on 29 March 2016.

In the lead up to this date we will be sending out #RCFV and #PVAW reminders to our friends and supporters via social media on what we want to see from the Royal Commission in the areas of:

  • Family violence response
  • Family violence prevention
  • Investment in women’s health services to coordinate prevention of violence against women

The Women’s Health Association of Victoria, the peak body for Victorian women’s health services, has also put together key messages for the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Have a read: RCFV WHAV Key messages March 2016

Get more information

See what Women’s Health West and our partners have already recommended to the Royal Commission into Family Violence:

We were a signatory to the following:

And go here if you want more information on the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria).

Update on Criminalising ‘Revenge Porn’

Thoughtful_girl_WEBby Emma Weaver, Health Promotion Worker – Policy & Development 

Remember our previous blog about the push to criminalise ‘revenge porn’? Well, this matter ended up being referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Reference Committee for inquiry. We filed a written submission and the committee is due to report back on 25 February 2016 (Ed: the committee has since reported back and you can read their findings online).

In this recent submission we restated our support for criminalising the behaviour of sharing sexually explicit images without a person or persons’ consent via all forms of telecommunications including SMS, email, websites and social media. This is important in creating a gender equitable, safe, inclusive and fair Australia for women and girls.

Our concerns

But we also stated our concerns with the term ‘revenge porn’. Our concern is that public discourse has predominantly focussed on the problem arising because of ‘naïve users’. The term ‘revenge porn’ supports this dialogue by suggesting the victim/survivor is to blame for taking a ‘pornographic’ image in the first place. It also implies that the victim/survivor actively engaged in the making of the image, which is often not the case. For example, we know that this form of violence can be done to ‘shame and humiliate the subject, or punish them for discontinuing the relationship’ by a current or ex-partner (Henry & Powell, 2015).

Our recommendations

We recommended to federal government that the offence be named ‘sexual violence perpetrated on information and communication technologies’ and the subsequent acronym of ‘ICT sexual violence’. This positions the offence within a framework of gender-based violence, placing responsibility with the perpetrator of this form of cyber exploitation rather than with the victim/survivor in the image.

Our support

Women’s Health West supports this legislative change as an opportunity for the government to provide a clear moral compass of the values of our society and the severity and unacceptability of this form of harassment and violence against women (Salter, 2015). Developing a specific federal criminal law against ICT sexual violence will create greater visibility for this offence and support victims/survivors to have their individual rights and dignity protected.

Essentially this legislative change will be a positive step towards protecting women and girl’s basic human rights to be free from mental, emotional and physical violence and the right to privacy and bodily integrity.

For more detail and to follow the status of the inquiry as it unfolds click here.

Reference

Henry, N and Powell, A, 2015, ‘Beyond the ‘sext’: Technology-facilitated sexual violence and harassment against adult women’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 48(10) 104-118.

Salter, M & Crofts, T, 2015, forthcoming, Responding to revenge porn: Challenging online legal impunity. In Comella, L & Tarrant, S (Eds.) New views on pornography: Sexuality, politics and the law. Praeger Publisher: Westport.

Pap screen changes take health equity backwards

By Alyce Vella, Health Promotion Worker

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Proposed changes to pap screen bulk-billing will have a significant impact on women who work, play and reside in the west, and will likely further exacerbate health inequity among women who experience disadvantage. Changes could result in patients paying up to $30 for a pap smear.

Only 58 per cent of women aged 20-69 participated in the National Cervical Screening Program in 2012-2013. Rates of screening among women residing in the western region of Melbourne are lower than the national average; as low as 44 per cent in some local government areas. It is likely that this number will reduce even further if added financial pressure is placed on women, let alone the increased effort required to identify a bulk-billing clinic if clinics increase their patient contribution.

Who will be impacted?

Marginalised community groups who are already presenting at low rates for pap screens are likely to be impacted, including Aboriginal women, migrant and refugee women, young women, women with a disability, lesbian and bisexual women, and victims/survivors of sexual violence. Incidence and mortality outcomes among Aboriginal women are particularly dire; Aboriginal women are 2.3 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to develop cervical cancer (incidence rate), and almost 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to die from cervical cancer, highlighting an already significant gap in health care among this community group.

Why the change?

One of the arguments for the proposed changes is that increased accessibility to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine (which protects against the high risk HPV strains that play a large role in the development of cervical cancer) is likely to see a reduced incidence of cervical cancer in the future, reducing the demand for pap screens. However, it is important to note that routine pap screens with a nurse or GP often act as a mediator for discussions about other routine health checks, such as breast screening for older women and STI testing for sexually active women, particularly for young women who are at highest risk of STIs such as chlamydia. With rates of chlamydia in some parts of Melbourne’s west almost three times greater than the state average, these opportunistic discussions are vital to the sexual and reproductive health of women in the west.

Some concerns

Arguably the most important concern with the proposed changes to pap screen bulk-billing are the potential impacts on women seeking out health care in a timely, preventative manner. According to the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry, ‘almost 90 per cent of all Victorian women who develop cervical cancer have either never had a test, or did not have a test routinely in the ten years prior to their diagnosis’, highlighting that the additional barriers to screening, such as the ones proposed, are likely to result in even more alarming statistics.

Increasing culturally appropriate and responsive cervical screening service delivery and coordination throughout Melbourne’s west is an objective of Action for Equity, the sexual and reproductive health plan for Melbourne’s west. The Action for Equity partnership is led by Women’s Health West.

Sources