News and Events

Open letter to the PM supporting migrant women escaping violence


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


Creating a gender equitable Victoria

Working to redress the social and structural inequalities that limit the lives of women and girls is at the core of Women’s Health West’s work, vision and business.
So we, of course, welcomed the opportunity to “share our ideas” with Premier Daniel Andrews’ Victorian Gender Equality Strategy consultation. The consultation was described as a conversation that will inform a state-wide approach that looks at the opportunities that gender equality provides and the challenges facing women and girls in Victoria.

Some facts about gender inequality

Gender inequality affects women in all areas of their lives:
• The Victorian workforce participation rate for women is 58.8 per cent, compared to 71.4 per cent for men
• A national survey found that 1 in 3 women over 15 has experienced physical violence and 1 in 5 has experienced sexual violence
• Women in full-time work earn around $15,000 less than men each year
• Women retire with just over half (53.4 per cent) the superannuation savings of men

Our recommendations

In our submission we stated that the business case for government action on gender equity is clear. World Health Organisation research states that gender equity enhances health and wellbeing, quality of life, improves work productivity and economic growth, increases the capacity for learning and education and contributes to poverty reduction, social inclusion and civic participation.

We acknowledge that this is realised by the Victorian Government with them noting that “Gender equality…has tangible benefits for Victoria’s social and economic prosperity, as more women are supported to reach their potential.”

In our submission we have outlined 23 recommendations that aim to influence and improve the social, economic and political factors that determine the health, safety and wellbeing of women and girls in our region. And we promote an approach that tackles inequity and the structures, norms, practices and attitudes which drive it.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the things we recommended:

A coordinated partnership approach

IG partnershipGender equality will only be achieved with strong coordinated whole-of government action. We see that this will only happen if the following is put in place:

  • A ten-year gender equality strategy, with yearly action plans
  • The gender strategy sits in the Department of Premier and Cabinet to ensure promises are kept and inter-ministerial representation occurs
  • All three levels of government in Victoria are involved

We also strongly recommend the government draw on, and fund the specialist expertise of women’s health services to continue to lead, coordinate and facilitate regional gender equity action plans. The women’s health program is the only Victorian sector with gender equity as its core business, therefore there are strong and existing partnerships designed to achieve gender equity.

We want pay equity

IG_payPay inequity is unlawful and places women’s economic security, independence, health and wellbeing at great risk. There are a range of concerted actions that counteract conscious and unconscious gender bias in Australian workplaces, so we’ve provided a range of recommendations that can change this and respond to the gender pay gap:

  • Ensure staff with recruitment and promotion responsibilities undertake gender bias training
  • Support all workplaces to undertake pay gender audits and develop action plans to respond to audit findings using existing Workplace Gender Equality Agency tools and resources
  • Encourage the Victorian Government to advocate for the inclusion of compulsory superannuation contributions in the current government-funded federal paid parental leave scheme. The current system places women on unpaid maternity or parental leave at significant risk of economic insecurity and poverty in retirement

The role of men

IG_men&womenMuch of the work required to achieve gender equality requires men and boy’s engagement, support and action. It is essential that men are involved in the development and implementation of Victoria’s first gender equality strategy. It also essential that women’s leadership is championed and resourced so women’s voices are always heard and valued.  Here are some of our ideas on strategies to engage men in promoting gender equality and transform masculine roles and norms that harm women:

  • Initiatives that support the redistribution of unpaid caring work equitably between women and men, such as increasing men’s involvement in unpaid care work and domestic labour
  • Invest in educational initiatives in schools and the workplace that raise awareness of the detrimental impact of male privilege and entitlement
  • Work to eliminate harmful gender stereotyping of both men and women in the media
  • Train men in bystander action so they can challenge sexist and misogynistic behaviour enacted by other men
  • Upskill men to be the activists or the advocates around key areas of gender inequality

Promoting women’s health and wellbeing

IG_sexual violenceWe are steadfast on what needs to be done here. The Victorian government needs to prioritise women’s health and wellbeing to achieve a gender equitable Victoria. This focus needs to be placed on three priority areas; sexual and reproductive health, mental health and wellbeing and the prevention of violence against women. Women’s Health West shares these priorities with other members of the Women’s Health Association of Victoria, as evidence suggests that traction in these three areas will lead to strong and sustained improvements in gender equity. We’ve suggested the following to truly promote women’s health and wellbeing:

  • The Victorian government needs to develop a state-wide sexual and reproductive health strategy to improve sexual and reproductive health, and strengthen reproductive rights for women and girls
  • The Victorian government needs to commit long-term funding for the implementation of evidence-based primary prevention initiatives through the integrated health promotion plan. This includes funding women’s health services to continue to coordinate and facilitate regional action plans that further gender equity
  • The Victorian government needs to continue to fund primary prevention of men’s violence against women, as a gendered phenomenon and human rights abuse of unparalleled proportions

Business: a powerful setting for social change

IG_leadershipWe believe that business will be a central point for promoting gender equality through role modelling equitable and respectful gender relations and primary prevention activities. Men continue to outnumber women in the private and government sector, and it was found that the percentage of women CEOs or heads of business dropped from 17.3 per cent in 2013/14 to 15.4 per cent in 2015. We have highlighted many things the Victorian government can do to support businesses to increase women’s leadership and achieve gender equality, here’s some of them:

  • Introduce gender quotas in a range of areas including governing bodies and board positions across the business, media and community sector, as well as for Victorian honour rolls and other existing channels of professional acknowledgement and awards
  • Develop a suite of strategies for private organisations to increase women’s leadership
  • Increase the availability and accessibility of childcare services to all members of the Victorian community by providing publicly funded childcare, as is the precedence with primary and secondary school education
  • Support and promote more flexible working conditions around parental leave, family violence leave and to prevent pregnancy and parenting discrimination

Achieving gender equality in vulnerable and diverse communities

Some women and girls are particularly vulnerable to disadvantage and disproportionately affected by gender inequality. Women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with a disability, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) women, and women of low socio-economic status are all at greater risk of poor health as a result of gender inequality.

In order to achieve gender equality for all women, we also recommended that the Victorian government fund primary prevention programs that take a whole-of-population approach alongside tailoring programs to the specific needs of particular community groups, as we do here at Women’s Health West.

And finally, we advocate that the Gender Equality Strategy does not operate in a silo. It needs to be aligned with the Victorian Health and Wellbeing Plan and also with the Statewide Family Violence Action Plan, a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence report.

This is only a snapshot of our ideas, suggestions and recommendations, if you want to find out more, please read our Gender Equality Strategy submission.


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.


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


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.