Equality for Health

Monday, July 26 2010

Canada's leading women's health researchers and community advocates call for improved living conditions and greater attention to women's equality in health research in order to improve the health of women living in Canada, and reaffirm their commitment to achieving this goal.

Across the country, the four Centres of Excellence for Women's Health (CEWH), the Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN) and three National Working Groups continue their comprehensive effort to bring women's health issues to the centre stage.

"On International Women's Day, we celebrate the strength and endurance of women, yet at the same time recognize that many women still live in extremely difficult circumstances, and that social inequalities severely damage the health of women everywhere." says Barbara Clow of the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (ACEWH).

In health, equality and true equity for women hinges on the availability of research that sheds light on how various treatments and health conditions, such as mental health or HIV/AIDS, affect women in particular. Examples of such research range from the ACEWH's Gender and HIV/AIDS programme to the Women and Health Protection Group's (WHP) ongoing work on the alarming rise of the use of SSRIs, a category of anti-depressants that is disproportionately prescribed to women. At the BCCEWH in Vancouver tobacco programs and policies are being examined for their effects on vulnerable populations and pregnant women, and efforts are being made to increase counselling on alcohol use among pregnant womenning in BC. "More evidence is being produced that suggests clear sex and gender differences in how drugs, alcohol and tobacco affect women and girls, and points to the need for tailored treatments and policies", says Lorraine Greaves, Executive Director of the BCCEWH. This research aims to reduce inequities and effect change that is beneficial to women.

Equality in health care also means consulting with women on how best to support them in living healthy lives, and how to provide them with effective, gender-sensitive preventive and curative services. It requires a strong understanding of women's diverse cultural backgrounds and circumstances. To this end, CWHN has been conducting an online survey to identify what Canadians think of Health Canada's Women's Health Strategy, which is currently under review. The results of the survey will be made public and reported to the federal government to help them with their review process in the coming months. Meanwhile, CEWH studies continue to give voice to women's diversity, identifying changes that could improve the well-being of all women - women living in rural, northern or urban areas, women living with a health condition or disability, Aboriginal women, lesbian, trans-gendered or two-spirited people, women of colour, and women living in poverty.

"Our research indicates that economic inequality and living in poverty are harmful to women's health in many ways, and that many more women than men are poor. Inadequate incomes mean poor housing conditions, lack of nutritious food and illness related to the stress of coping with the struggle to find money. Poverty also affects women's ability to get the health services they need." says Margaret Haworth-Brockman of Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE).

For Aboriginal women there is a vast difference in health status across ages and groups. In addition to socio-economic factors such as an unacceptable poverty rate, housing and food security issues, there is a need for equality in the sense of creating culturally appropriate health services and recognizing the needs between services and support available to rural, remote and urban First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

"This must be approached in the context of historical, institutionalized racism, while sustaining and celebrating our culture and maintaining our unique identities as Aboriginal people in Canada," stated Linda Day, the Executive Director for the Aboriginal Women's Health and Healing Research Group (AWHHRG).

International Women's Day is also an opportunity to recognize that women play a major role in health care provision, as providers in the system, as well as caring for the health of their families and communities, in unpaid work. The National Coordinating Group on Health Care Reform and Women (NCGHRW) in partnership with the National Network on Environments and Women'

s Health's (NNEWH) recently released "Critical to Care," a report on women and ancillary work in health care. This cross-program collaboration is only one example of many current initiatives illustrating the female backbone of health care provision.

Given the many and varied ways in which women experience health, access and provide health care, the impact of health care reforms on women warrants serious examination. NCGHRW has done extensive work to this end, including its release last fall of a "Guide to Primary Health Care Reform and Women", and the more recent "Women's Guide for Understanding Evidence about Health and Health Care."

As women in Canada and around the world carry on the drive to achieve equality on all fronts, the CEWH, CWHN and the three National Working Groups will continue to spearhead and collaborate on these and other projects to make health care in Canada more equitable and responsive to women's needs.

-For more details or interviews contact:

Laila Malik: Tel: 204-942-5500 ext. 20; Cell: (514)515-1134; Email: news@cwhn.ca

Health Canada's Women's Health Contribution Program (WHCP) funds the organizations and groups below to conduct policy-focused research and communications on women's health. Please refer to the attached list for WHCP events around the country throughout the month of March and in conjunction with International Women's Day.

Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (ACEWH):


British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (BCCEWH):


National Network on Environments and Women's Health (NNEWH):


Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE):


Aboriginal Women's Health and Healing Research Group (AWHHRG):


National Coordinating Group on Health Care Reform and Women (NCGHCRW):


Rural and Remote Women's Health (RRWH):


Women and Health Protection (WHP):


Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN):


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