WCHM was established in 1990 and was originally located in Phillip. It was known as The Canberra Women’s Health Centre, and commenced its operation as the result of identified need by ACT women’s refuges and the ACT government Women’s Health Service. It was clear at the time women’s health and wellbeing needs could not solely be met by existing services. At the opening of the Centre, Dorothy Broom stated “it is the business of this Centre to facilitate us, as women, to reclaim knowledge of and responsibility for our own bodies and our own health.”
Dorothy went on to state:
“…our distinctive needs include reproductive and gynecological concerns, but to limit ‘women’s health’ to such concerns is a kind of medicalised version of the tabloid newspaper’s page 2 photograph….our health needs as women can never be restricted to ‘complaints and conditions unique to women’ without fragmenting us into a collection of unrelated organ systems, tissues, and body parts to be repaired, replaced, or removed like the elements of a faulty machine. So it is revolutionary when we move to reintegrate the fragmented parts, and to devise ways of placing ourselves back in the healing relationship as responsible agents…”
Dorothy’s words were significant, and at the time revolutionary, paving the way forward for WCHM’s many years of work with women’s health and wellbeing.
In 1992, the Centre moved to the Pearce Community Centre and has to date remained at this location. In the mid 1990s, the name was changed to Women’s Centre for Health Matters Inc. so that the Centre was acknowledged as a distinct service and not confused with the Women’s Health Service.
In the past the Centre has provided a number of essential services to ACT Women. These included the Women’s Health Information Line which operated for 30 hours per week, attended to by a registered nurse. This service provided confidential information on all women’s health issues, referral, phone counselling and support. Up until 2007 a Women’s Health Library offered a large range of pamphlets, books, videos and audio cassettes. The dissemination of the library came as a result of books being outdated and the increasing availability of current up to date information electronically. The first ‘Having a Baby in Canberra’ (HABIC) pamphlet was issued in 1999 and has proven to be WCHM’s most requested information item. This pamphlet, and an associated information session still run today in partnership with the Maternity Coalition.
Over the years the WCHM has constantly evolved to meet the changing needs of women in Canberra. Today, the emphasis has moved from away from a direct service delivery model and towards a community development, building capacity approach using the social determinants of health model. With this change has come a new focus for the Centre on identifying and responding to the unmet health needs of ACT women through advocacy, capacity building, community development, information provision, health promotion, social research and working across sectors.