The path towards excellent sexual and reproductive health

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It’s sometimes said that the best laid plans can often go wrong but more optimistically, a plan is often a map that marks out where we have come from and where it is we need to go. How we travel along the various paths is, more often than not, key to reaching the destination.

The recent release of Victoria’s first ever sexual and reproductive health strategy and priority action plan is an excellent example of just how far we’ve travelled in relation to women’s health. The narrow thinking that it is simply or only about what affects breasts, wombs and vaginas has gradually given way to an understanding that access to sexual and reproductive health services is a fundamental right for all women.

In Australia, ‘all women’ now includes more than 75% of Australians who identified with an ancestry other than Australian. The needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can no longer be seen as marginal. In this context, Victoria’s action plan has recognised that improving access to reproductive choice also includes addressing systemic barriers. In the case of immigrant women, such as international students and other temporary migrants, systemic barriers like visa status can be a critical risk factor when it comes to women’s health.

The issue of international students’ access to pregnancy-related to care is something we’ve been advocating for several years now and the Victorian strategy now has an explicit plan of action: ‘to advocate to the Commonwealth to ensure that international students have access to reproductive health services immediately upon their arrival in Australia through private health insurance.’

This is one good sign of just how far we’ve come. The action plan also provides an outline for supporting women through increased prevention strategies and the implementation of peer support models such as bilingual educators. And as far as best laid plans go, the devil will be in the detail: we now need to ensure that the map provided for us in Victoria will allow us to further travel along the path to excellent sexual and reproductive health for all immigrant and refugee women, in ways that are appropriate, meaningful and respectful.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Data Report

This national data report summarises the latest available data across a range of areas that impact on the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of immigrant and refugee women. The data in this report has been obtained from a variety of sources ranging from national, population based studies to small community-based studies. As a national report, ideally all data reported would be population-based. However, where national, disaggregated data sets are not available, state and territory based research has been used. Where Australian data or research is not available, international research is used. Community-based-studies have also been included to highlight the issues relating to immigrant and refugee women’s health.

You can read the report here. 

Why myths can be dangerous to your health

Alex Danko: Songs of Australia

Alex Danko: Songs of Australia

Every culture has them.  Stories, slogans and words that help to explain the often difficult, complex and challenging aspects of the world we live in.  Our language is peppered with imagined explanations—‘jumping the queue’, ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘too clever for her own good’—that are far removed from the messy realities of seeking asylum, violence against women or gender inequality.  The complex reality of abortion is one issue that has long been subjected to the type of shorthand thinking underpinning cultural myths.

Today (the 28th of September) is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, and this year’s Call for Action focuses on busting cultural myths. We’ve mentioned before that access to safe and legal abortion in Australia is generally thought about as a ‘third world’ problem, yet feelings of silence, shame, guilt and fear are still very real barriers to accessing abortion services whether you’re an immigrant and refugee woman living in Frankston or a woman living in the Philippines.

In some ways we have good reason to call ourselves the Lucky Country, where abortion is less legally restricted than many other countries around the world (it is, however,still in the Crimes Act in NSW).  Yet, safe access to abortion is far more complex than making it legal.  In Australia, physical access to the premises of an abortion service has been an ongoing issue because of the constant presence of anti-abortion protestors.  In addition to blocking entry and making unwanted comments to women, protestors have been known to hand women anti-abortion information.  Immigrant and refugee women already face many barriers when accessing health services and this type of harassment would further prevent them from accessing safe and timely treatment.

The Victorian Government has recently announced its intention to introduce a safe access Bill to ensure women (and clinic staff) can safely and privately access abortion services without fear of being harassed and intimidated.  The proposed bill could not be more welcome.  It sends a clear message that harassment, intimidation and any other form of violence directed at women will not be tolerated under any circumstance.  People shouldn’t be prevented from expressing their opinion but not at the expense of women’s privacy and security.

The proposed bill also conveys an implicit message that the propagation of myths such as ‘the right to life’ can lead to misinformation. Myths spread when access to evidence-based, comprehensive information is limited.  Today is the day to help bust a few of those mythical balloons.

Further information about abortion can be found on the Women’s Health Victoriawebsite, the Reproductive Choice Australia website and the Marie Stopes website