The Whole Woman: Putting Depression in Context

Laura Pound, Project Worker (Mental Health)

“When standard treatments are applied, sometimes a woman can actually worsen” states a recent ABC News article, which brings our attention to the new clinic in Melbourne where women receive mental health treatment tailored to their gender (ABC News, October 2010). The Monash-Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre rejects the ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment of mental illness by adopting a broader biopsychosocial model which rejects male Caucasians as the archetypal patient. WCHM is constantly advocating for responses to health that are gender sensitive and thus welcomes this new and innovative initiative. However, while women do need appropriate health care that takes into account their specific needs, placing women under the medical eye more than men can be detrimental.

Medicalisation is where human conditions are defined as medical problems requiring medical intervention and treatment. Women have encountered this from the diagnosis of one in four women with ‘female hysteria’ during the Victorian era, to the recent creation of a drug to cure women’s sexual dysfunction. Medicalisation is a controversial topic. If we look at childbirth, for example, medicalisation has brought improvements in safety but also concerns about women’s lack of ownership of the experience.

Depression is an interesting health condition to see the issue of appropriate diagnosis, treatment and attention vs. medicalisation play out. These are some of the realities. Doctors have been more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men for over 20 years (Meltzer et al 1995 in White, 2002), even when they have similar scores on standardised measures of depression or present with identical symptoms (WHO, 2011). There is no evidence of biological explanations as to the differences in rates of depression between women and men (Harris et al 1991 in White, 2002). Being a woman is a significant predictor in prescription of mood altering drugs (WHO, 2011). And women are more likely to have severe treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), insulin shock therapy and psycho-surgical techniques like lobotomies.

Where does this leave us at WCHM? We want to highlight the important issue of women living with depression and advocate for increased and sensitive supports, but we also want to avoid the medicalisation of women’s health and wellbeing. We don’t want to medicalise, because “when defined as medical problems, which can only be resolved with medical solutions, women lose control of fundamental aspects of their experience” (Oakley 1984 in White, 2002). In the case of depression, medical solutions can mean an overdependence on pharmaceuticals. There is no doubt that drugs that assist in treating depression have an absolutely vital role to play, but they’re not a ‘cure all’ solution. They can create a ‘dependency culture’ on anti-depressants which “reinforces the traditional role of women [as passive] which they are seeking to escape” (White 1991 in White, 2002). It is interesting to see that the Centre was even concerned about this back in the early 1990s when they created projects to address the more common prescription of minor tranquillisers to women compared with men. Genelle Walters, a then staff member stated:

The prescribing of benzoiazephines to women is yet another expression of a pathological response to women’s health concerns that coincides precisely with the maintenance and perpetuation of women’s oppression (WCHM, 1993).

So what is the alternative to a medicalised response to women living with depression? The Centre promotes taking a holistic social determinants of health perspective, where it is understood that environmental, social and economic factors influence the conditions in which people live and their wellbeing.

From this perspective, women may be more commonly diagnosed with depression for a whole range of reasons other than medical. Research suggests women seek input into their health when they are well more often than men, and this re-presenting can be interpreted as depression by doctors. Also, women are socialised to express emotions including stress more than men, and to experience and report bodily sensations differently. Therefore, women are more likely to consult doctors about how they feel compared with men who focus on physical factors (Berbrugge 1989 in White, 2002). Others suggest that women have more stress due to issues that come up around their social roles (Nazroo et al 1998 in White, 2002).

Once diagnosed with depression, the social determinants of health perspective also helps us understand how women’s lives are affected. Financial status is most certainly a determinant of wellbeing. Recent research highlights that while counselling can be an effective treatment, it is unaffordable for many women and they access Medicare benefits less (Byles et al., February 2011). And mental illness means being up to $250,000 worse off at retirement (Rose, February 2011). This reflects the ‘feminisation of poverty’ where women’s health is at risk because we have fewer resources to cope, so get sicker (Gimenez 1989 in White, 2002).

Another social determinant affecting women’s diagnosis with depression is motherhood and the socially expected caring role. Women are more often diagnosed when they are of child bearing age (Bebbington 1996 in White, 2002), and the women who are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness are those who are married, have children and are unemployed (Ussher 1991 in White, 2002). Women may also be overrepresented in health statistics because of their caring role, which brings them into contact with health services more often. Evidence shows that doctors and women themselves are mistaking fatigue as depression because normal feelings of tiredness for mothers can be misdiagnosed as a symptom of depression (Doherty, March 2011).

It is absolutely a positive development that a new clinic has opened in Melbourne which is recognising that women experience mental health differently to men, and require modified treatment depending on where they’re at in their lives. But we need to be wary that the types of diagnosis and treatment women are experiencing are not only medical, but reflect the social determinants of health, so that we are not over-diagnosed and medicalised to our detriment. Women living with depression should feel comfortable to seek help and step out of the ‘caring’ role to care for themselves and be ‘cared for’. And women with depression should be able to access creative, holistic supports that are gender sensitive and recovery focused.


  1. ABC News. 28 October 2010. Women urged to get second opinion on mental health.
  2. Byles, J., Dolja-Gore, X., Loxton, D., Parkinson, L., & Stewart Williams, J. February 2011. “Women’s uptake of Medicare Benefits Schedule mental health items for general practitioners, psychologists and other allied mental health professionals”. The Medical Journal of Australia. 194: 4.
  3. Doherty, E. 3 March 2011. “Mum fatigue a real issue, say experts”. Herald Sun.
  4. Rose, D. 2 February 2011. “Mental illness can bring a massive pay cut”. The Daily Telegraph.
  5. White, K. 2002. An introduction to the Sociology of health and illness. Sage Publications: London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi.
  6. Women’s Centre for Health Matters. 1993. Annual report, 1992-93.
  7. World Health Organisation. 2011. Gender and women’s mental health.

National Women’s Matters

National Plan of Action

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

In February of this year the Australian Government released the long awaited National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children 2010-2022. The National Plan targets two main types of violence: domestic and family violence and sexual assault, which are gendered crimes with disproportionate impact on women. The primary focus of the Plan will be upon improving the quality and availability of services for women who experience or are at risk of experiencing violence and their children. It will also, however, have a focus on prevention—including through the development of respectful relationships among young people—and gender equality, in order to address some of the factors that lead to violence.

The success of the Plan will be measured against the following four “high-level indicators of change”:

  • Reduced prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Increased proportion of women who feel safe in their communities
  • Reduced deaths related to domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Reduced proportion of children exposed to their mother’s or carer’s experience of domestic violence

The values and principles that guide the National Plan are:

  • Domestic violence, family violence and sexual assault crosses all ages, races and cultures, socioeconomic and demographic barriers, although some women are at higher risk.
  • Everyone regardless of their age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, culture, disability, religious belief, faith, linguistic background or location, has a right to be safe and live in an environment that is free from violence.
  • Domestic violence, family violence and sexual assault are unacceptable and against the law.
  • Governments and other organisations will provide holistic services and supports that prioritise the needs of victims and survivors of violence.
  • Sustainable change must be built on community participation by men and women taking responsibility for the problems and solutions.
  • Everyone has a right to access and to participate in justice processes that enable them to achieve fair and just outcomes.
  • Governments acknowledge the legacy of past failures and the need for new collaborative approaches to preventing violence against Indigenous women.
  • Responses to children exposed to violence prioritise the safety and long term well-being of children.

The Plan will be broken into four smaller three-year Action Plans, each working toward the overall indicators for change. The four Action Plans have been designed as a series to be implemented over 12 years, each building on the other.

One of the initiatives to emerge from the first Action Plan is the national 1800 RESPECT 24-hour Counselling Service for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, which was launched in October 2010. It is hoped that this initiative, as well as others proposed for the next three years, will improve the quality and availability of services for victims of domestic or sexual violence. One proposed scheme to be applied Australia-wide, for example, will allow a domestic or family violence order (DVO) issued by a court in one jurisdiction to be automatically recognised in other jurisdictions. Currently, it is the responsibility of the protected person to have their DVO registered in multiple jurisdictions, putting the responsibility entirely on the victim.

The roll out of the plan will be accompanied by ongoing funding of the Personal Safety Survey and the National Community Attitudes Survey, which will be rolled out every four years to track the impact of the National Plan.

Studies commissioned by the Australian Government in 2009 also show that in addition to the immeasurable emotional and personal impacts of violence, there is an enormous economic cost. Domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against women costs the nation an estimated $13.6 billion each year.

The ACT Government is in the process of developing its own strategy to reduce violence against women (a requirement of the National Plan) due to be released in June. Marcia represented WCHM at two consultations in the development of the ACT Strategy and we will include details of the final draft in the next e-bulletin. In recognition of the importance of violence against women as an issue affecting the health and wellbeing of ACT women, the WCHM Board have also added this issue as a new Key Area in the WCHM Strategic Plan on which the Centre will start to focus some of its work in the 2011-12 financial year.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

Nicole O’Callaghan, Policy and Administration Officer for Women with Disabilities ACT (WWDACT)

WWDACT and I believe that the current system for long-term care and support within Australia is shameful as Australian citizens are not guaranteed adequate care and support if they acquire a severe disability. The idea for a National Disability Insurance Scheme came out of the 20/20 Summit held in 2008 by the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The then Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, the Hon. Bill Shorten, convened a group called the Disability Investment Group (DIG) who investigated the need for such a scheme. The DIG recommended that the Government ask the Productivity Commission to look into the feasibility of a scheme.

Earlier this year, the Productivity Commission released their draft feasibility report which concluded that the NDIS is positive and feasible considering Australia’s economic prosperity and wealth. In this, the Commission also proposed a second, smaller scheme, the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS), whereby people who suffer a catastrophic lifelong injury as a result of an accident will be covered. The people who do not fall under either scheme will still be covered by current motor vehicle schemes. Currently, the Commission is preparing a final report for Government, which will be delivered in July.

The NDIS is comparable to a Medicare scheme, where every Australian is protected and guaranteed long-term care and support if they acquire a severe disability. The proposed cost for the NDIS is approximately $12.5 billion and for the NIIS approximately $6 billion. The money will be raised either through a levy or a legislated proportion of Government revenue.

The NDIS will potentially benefit the majority of people with disability, both current and future. While there are a number of issues that need to be ironed out—such as performance indicators to measure the success of the scheme that need to be set by people with disability—the scheme will make issues like education, employment and accessing equipment needs more equitable across the nation.

In theory, the scheme will exponentially increase employment opportunities for people with disability through an increase in allocation of funds. Job seekers who have disability will be supplied with all the support and equipment they may need to be effective participants in the labour workforce. When people are provided with the most appropriate equipment required to be competent and confident players in the Australian workforce, they fully partake in all social, financial and emotional aspects of society upon which our nation is built.

In addition, the NDIS is also set to raise educational opportunities. Accompanying increased availability of equipment comes increased educational opportunities. The NDIS target group, people with disability, will benefit from approximately a trebling of the disability funds in our nation. Theoretically, the scheme will provide the opportunity for stakeholders to choose the care and support that most effectively meet their unique requirements.

There is currently no real system in place whereby the care and support needs of people with disability are protected. The NDIS and NIIS are new systems with innovative funding structures to ensure that money goes to those who need it now as well as those who may need it in the future. The proposed funding structure for the NDIS will be tiered, targeting unique and specific cohorts of society. A tiered funding structure will significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. The tiers of the NDIS funding structure will be:

Tier 1—Social participation and minimization of the impact of disability (targeting the Australian population of 22 million)

Tier 2—Information, referral and web services to ensure that people get complete information and better access to support groups and assistance available (targeting the 4 million Australians with a disability)

Tier 3—People receiving funding from the NDIS (targeting the approximately 360 000 Australians aged 0 to the pension age with sufficient needs for disability support and early intervention)

While the jury is still out on the potential effectiveness of the NDIS, it does appear promising. The social fabric of our society will only be enhanced when a greater array of individuals have access to everything our nation has to offer.

Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and Women with Disabilities ACT (WWDACT) remain concerned about the lack of recognition that women have different experiences of disability than men. Currently, women receive approximately only 40 percent of allocated funding for care and support for people with disability. If these concerns can be addressed and combined with the positive attributes in the draft Scheme, Australia will have a more supportive system for people with disability that is comparable to other OECD countries.

ACT Women’s Matters

ANU Gender Institute

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

A new cross-campus virtual institute on gender and sexuality has been developed by the Australian National University (ANU). The Gender Institute was created with two main aims: to support and enhance research, education and outreach on gender and sexuality across the university and to support the employment and retention of women at all levels, in all disciplines, across the university. There are seven colleges with staff and students committed to the Institute, which are: ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU College of Law, ANU College of Medicine, Biology and the Environment, ANU College of Business and Economics, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science and ANU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

The Gender Institute was launched on Thursday March 10 by the Governor-General of Australia Ms Quentin Bryce. The evening was chaired by the inaugural convener of the Institute Professor Kim Rubenstein, Director of the Centre for International and Public law in ANU College of Law, and featured a panel discussion on ‘Future Feminisms’ with Professor Sally Engle Merry (School of Anthropology, Law and Society, New York University), Professor Margaret Jolly (School of Culture, History and Language, ANU), Dr Fiona Jenkins (School of Philosophy, ANU), and Dr Bina D’Costa (Centre for International Governance and Justice, ANU).

The panelists were engaging and inspiring, each offering an astute assessment of feminism’s unfinished business. I was struck, however, by the confluence of ‘gender’ with ‘women’ by some of the speakers. The event was part of the celebrations of the Centenary of International Women’s Day and so it is likely that the gained successes and future challenges for women were foremost in people’s minds, however, gender equity and equality can’t be achieved without understanding boys and men and bringing them along. As Professor Engle Merry pointed out, gender inequality may not be as blatant as it once was, but that is not to say that it no longer exists. Rather, she said, it has become more subtle and therefore somewhat harder to challenge. It is essential then that research is not just about women for women, but that it recognise the temporal and cultural factors that inform gender identity for males and females and how these interact to create inequalities in power, prestige and resources.

Despite this, let there be no doubt that WCHM welcomes the creation of the Gender Institute and believes that fine scholarly work on gender and sexuality will be produced there. We look very forward to keeping you updated.

ACT Local Hospital Network

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

At the February 13 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting all jurisdictions signed a Heads of Agreement providing for further reform of the national health care system, known as the 2011 COAG Agreement. The Agreement provides for the National Health and Hospitals Network (NHHN), part of which are the Local Hospital Network (LHN) arrangements.

LHNs will be made up of small groups of hospitals—between one and four—that will work together to provide a range of hospital services. LHNs will be funded by the Australian Government, but will manage their own budgets and will be accountable to a set of Australia-wide performance standards—a departure from the current situation where funding and management of hospitals varies between the states and territories. It is hoped that the LHNs will avoid the fragmentation and duplication that comes from individual hospitals operating independently as they will work together to plan and coordinate services.

During November and December 2010 the ACT Government held a consultation focussed on establishing a LHN for the ACT. The consultation found a preference for the ACT LHN to extend beyond ACT geographic borders to include the surrounding regions that rely upon ACT health services. There were also preferences for there to be a strong and maintained relationship between the ACT LHN and other community and health services, for there to be greater clarity and definition of the proposed Medicare Locals and for the ACT LHN to extend its focus beyond acute care to consider broader aspects of health, such as the social determinants of health.

The ACT Government plans to implement a single LHN restricted to the ACT geographic boundaries in order to retain and build on the relationship between ACT Health and Calvary Public Hospital. In addition—and unlike LHNs elsewhere—the ACT LHN will not be a separate statutory authority with a Chief Executive Officer. The ACT LHN will be comprised of the Canberra Hospital, Calvary Public Hospital, Clare Holland House and the Queen Elizabeth II Family Centre and will continue to be managed by the ACT Government.

WCHM supports the development of the ACT LHN although is disappointed that a regional model has not been adopted, and that the network is restricted to the ACT geographic boundaries. We know from our work that women in the regions surrounding the ACT rely upon the ACT as a major regional hub for health services and similarly, women in the ACT travel to NSW for certain health services. It therefore would have been heartening to see greater collaboration between hospitals in the ACT and certain hospitals in NSW. Despite this, the ACT Government is continuing to look for ways to better meet the health needs of Canberrans, including working with Calvary Public Hospital to ensure greater access to acute hospital services on the north side.

WCHM will continue to monitor the progress of the National Health and Hospital Reform in order to ensure that the needs and experiences of women in the ACT and surrounding regions are well represented and will continue to bring you updates in future e-bulletins.

WCHM Matters

International Women’s Day Award

As many of you will already be aware, WCHM were the very proud winners of the 2011 ACT International Women’s Day Group Award. WCHM, to our great honour, were nominated for the award by members of the ACT Women’s Services Network, who themselves do such important work in supporting the women of the ACT and surrounding regions.

This award is shared with the WCHM staff and Board members of the past year whose dynamism, intelligence and passion for women have driven the Centre toward its goals. In particular, however, WCHM thanks all the women from the community who donate their time, experience, insight and sense of humour to make our projects and advocacy a success.

WCHM Birthday Celebration

On Thursday May 5 WCHM celebrated its 20th birthday! The celebration was held at the Legislative Assembly and featured an exhibition of memorabilia from the Centre’s past. There were also some exceptional speakers who each offered their thoughts on the Centre’s evolution and spoke to the future of health and health care for women in the ACT.

Following a few congratulatory words by the ACT Minister for Women, Joy Burch, WCHM founding member, Sue Andrews, formally launched the WCHM history booklet and took a few moments to reflect on the Centre’s history. Guest were reminded that the Canberra Women’s Health Centre (now the Women’s Centre for Health Matters), was born out of the very first National Women’s Health Policy in 1989, and that that it had been officially opened on 23 April 1991 in the green space opposite the Centre in the middle of Colbee Court by the women of Canberra (a copy of Sue’s speech is available from the WCHM homepage). Sue was followed by Dorothy Broome, who, having spoken at the opening of the Centre in 1991, took the opportunity to reflect on the past twenty years and comment on the changing, a much more mainstream, approach of community based women’s health organisations in pushing for change.

Following the retrospective were four speakers who shared their thoughts about the future of health care in the ACT, particularly for the groups of women at risk of disadvantage with whom WCHM works. The first speaker, Darlene Cox from the Health Care Consumers Association (HCCA) of the ACT, took the opportunity to comment on the debate surrounding the inclusion of gender as a social determinant of health in the new Primary Health Care Strategy. Christina Ryan from Advocacy for Inclusion took the opportunity to raise the ongoing issues for women with disabilities, which are not being addressed by mainstream disability policies and programs. These include ensuring the rights of women with disabilities to have children and the elimination of violence against women with disabilities by carers. Continuing with this theme, Branka Trajkovski from Toora Women’s Inc. discussed the challenges that remain for women who have experienced violence and welcomed the few initiatives in the recently announced ACT Budget. In particularly, Branka acknowledged the allocated funding for programs to achieve behavioural change in offenders. Last but not least, was Padma Menon, WCHM Board member and Director of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA). Padma spoke of the challenging but essential step of engaging CALD women to ensure that they are partners in designing and directing the supports and services they receive. One measure, which WCHM has documented through previous research, is working with communities not for them and accepting that empowerment looks different in different contexts.

To close the formalities Alison Osmand, WCHM Board Chair, thanked the speakers and formally launched four companion reports to It goes with the Territory! ACT Women’s views about Health and Wellbeing Information. The four companion reports present the views of young women, older women, women who are mental health carers and women with disabilities. These reports are all available under the publications section of the website and members will be receiving hard copies of these publications in the mail shortly.

The speakers were followed by a delightful performance by the acappella choir, the Cyrenes who have a special connection to WCHM’s past. In 1999 the Cyrenes approached WCHM to support and auspice their application for an ACT Government Healthpact Grant to assist the staging of their original production On the Soles of Her Feet. The Cyrenes are a women’s community choir with a passion for singing songs by, for, and about women and their experiences and about social justice and they celebrated their own 20th Anniversary in 2009. The Choir sang four songs, raising the spirits and energy of the crowd before they had the opportunity to taste the delicious WCHM 20th Birthday cupcakes and peruse the exhibition about the trials and triumphs of WCHM over the last two decades.

The birthday was a great success with over 120 attendees, but more than that, it was an opportunity for women and men working in community, health, education and government to reflect on the history of women’s health in the ACT and to think to the future: the challenges, the priorities, and the opportunities. WCHM was also able to hear from our partners on the work they think is yet to be done.

Strategic Plan Update

In January this year, WCHM Board and staff came together to review the centre’s strategic direction for the year 2011-12. The Strategic Planning days are a wonderful opportunity for Board and staff members to discuss the Centre’s successes, lessons learned, ambitions and potential; finetuning the current Strategic Plan based on the changing external environment and emerging needs of the ACT community.

This year the Board agreed to add violence against women as a new Key Area of the WCHM strategic plan. WCHM believes that this new direction has links to our current work; does not impact on the sustainability of current projects and their progress; and is vitally important to the health and wellbeing of women in the ACT.

The projects undertaken as part of this new Key Area will be developed over the coming months in consultation and collaboration with our partners in the ACT Women’s Services Network. Not being a service provider places WCHM in a unique position to undertake social research and to contribute to systemic advocacy to support violence and crisis services and to inform initiatives being developed by ACT Government to address violence against women.

WCHM Board Trainee Positions

A challenge for small non government organisations like WHCM is ensuring continued succession planning for their Boards. The WCHM Constitution allows the Board to appoint up to three ex-officio non-voting Board members to meet the specific requirements of WCHM. The Board recently agreed to use these positions as training positions for women who have had little or no board experience to date, but who are keen to learn and be supported to do so.

WCHM circulated a communiqué about the positions through our networks and within days received a number of phone calls and emails from interested women. Overall the Centre received twelve expressions of interests from women with diverse personal and professional backgrounds and experiences.

The overwhelming response has indicated a real need in the ACT for board training for women (especially for young women), but it has also highlighted that many women already have the skills and experience to take up positions on boards but may not have the confidence to do so or to know how to access these opportunities. WCHM will work with other community organisations over the coming months to investigate possibilities to increase opportunities for ACT women to enter community boards.

National Health Promotion Conference

From April 10-13 Marcia represented WCHM at the Australian Health Promotion Association’s 20th National Health Promotion Conference, which was held in Cairns.

The focus of the conference was on the social determinants of health, along with solutions to strengthen action to address them, and brought together participants working in health promotion, population health and related sectors, including academics, policy makers and government and community representatives.

Keynote speakers and workshops focused on how social factors directly shape health outcomes and health inequities. They highlighted the need to address environmental and social conditions to achieve more equitable health gains and tackle ill-health, rather than simply encouraging individuals to change their behaviour. Keynote speakers included:

Fran Baum who is one of Australia’s leading researchers on the social and economic determinants of health and community based health promotion. Fran also served as a Commissioner on the World health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health from 2005-08.

Michael Sparks who is the global President of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education and has worked in health promotion for over 25 years. Michael has written extensively on strategic directions for health promotion, translating global ideas into local contexts and social determinants.

Gavin Turrell who is a Principal Research Fellow (Professor) in the School of Public Health at QUT whose primary research is population-based and examines how social and economic factors (measured at the individual, group, and area levels) influence health and health-related behaviours. Gavin focusses on how to reduce health inequalities through public policy, health policy, health promotion, and other intervention strategies.

We will include a detailed summary of Marcia’s key learnings from the conference for the WCHM and ACT contexts in the next e-bulletin.

WCHM Women at Work


Mental Health Project Updates

Laura Pound, Project Worker (Mental Health)

Both of the major mental health research projects being undertaken by WCHM at the moment—about women mental health carers and peer support groups for women—are in a really exciting phase. Interviews and questionnaires have wrapped up, and we are currently analysing results and shaping the valuable words and experiences of women in the ACT into reports to be used for advocacy and to support services understanding of the needs of women living with mental health issues.

The Women’s Mental Health Working Group is continuing to meet, have made a strong submission to the Charter of Rights for Mental Health Consumers, and are currently deciding on the shape of projects to come in the next financial year.

Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Secondary Schools (SAPPSS)

Rachelle Cole, Community Development Worker

Over the past year WCHM has been involved in a number of activities to combat violence against women, including taking a lead role in the organisation of the annual Reclaim the Night. WCHM staff are also taking part in the innovative Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Secondary Schools developed by CASA House in Victoria who are partnering with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and selected secondary schools to roll out the program in the ACT.

The Program, known as SAPPSS, aims to prevent sexual assault and to enable schools to better respond to sexual assault in a way that ensures positive outcomes for victims/survivors. SAPPSS takes a multi-faceted approach to prevention which includes professional development for teachers, assistance with the improvement of policies and procedures around sexual assault, and an eight session curriculum for students.

Angela Carnovale and I, along with other community partners, have taken up the task of delivering this curriculum to year 10 students at Campbell High. Each week we join forces with teachers to facilitate discussion on sexual assault, consent, communication and respectful relationships with the hope of equipping students with the skills they need to negotiate those tricky situations they are likely to find themselves in during their adolescents and early adulthood. Some of the key messages are that “consent=free agreement”; “the victim/survivor is never to blame”; and “sexual violence is about power”.

The knowledge of these issues varies greatly among students and their insightful questions and comments never cease to amaze, and sometimes stump us. They accept certain concepts whole-heartedly and they challenge others, which challenges us as facilitators. There was initial resistance, for example, to the SAPPSS definition of sexual violence as “any sexual behaviour that makes the victim/survivor feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened”, which can include acts such as sexting and sexual harassment. These attitudes are beginning to shift, however, as the students explore the impacts and affects of these non-physical behaviours, which can be equally as damaging.

We will hopefully see many more attitudinal changes as SAPPSS at Campbell High nears completion. The recent incident at ADFA, which we discussed in our last SAPPSS session, highlights the pervasiveness of certain myths about sexual assault in our community and our institutions and the dire need for this type of alternative sex education for prevention of and effective response to sexual assault.

ANU Project

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

Over the past year WCHM has been working with two students—Simone and Katie—from the Australian National University Medical School (ANUMS) on research projects aiming to either: measure the effectiveness of storytelling as a means of teaching principles of gender sensitive health service delivery to first-year medical school students, or, measure the level of awareness of gender sensitive health service delivery principles in fourth-year medical school students before and after they undertake the Women’s Health block.

The former project, conducted by Simone, involved the creation of an audio-visual resource for medical students and health professionals that features three women telling their story about their experiences of a consultation with a medical doctor who demonstrated great gender sensitivity or gender insensitivity. As they relay their story the women reflect on the ramifications of the experience for them and highlight the simple things that the doctors did that worked or that they could do differently. The DVD has been rolled out to a small sample of the ANUMS first year group and Simone is currently in the process of writing up the results, which we will feature in the next e-bulletin.

Regardless of the results, however, the DVD is an exceptional resource that the women, Simone and WCHM are incredibly proud of. We are very happy to say that the ANUMS was also very impressed with the learning resource and it is our hope that they will look at ways to incorporate it into the existing medical school curriculum. WCHM would like to thank the three DVD participants, Simone Huntingford and Fiona Nelson for creating an exceptional audio-visual research that will be invaluable to communicating the importance of gender sensitivity to medical school students and health professionals alike.

The second project is being conducted by Katie and is currently underway. Katie will be surveying the fourth-year medical school students about their understanding of the principles of gender sensitive health service delivery before and after they undertake the Women’s Health block of training. Particularly exciting about this project is that it won’t only measure how well the principles of gender sensitivity are communicated through the Women’s Health block, but will also be a guide to how well the ANUMS curriculum communicates these principles overall. We are hoping to bring you the results of this project in our next e-bulletin as well.

Worth Checking Out…

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

Have you ever thought about the effect of climate change on health and wondered why we never hear much about it? Me too. That’s why I was particularly interested to learn of the Climate and Health Alliance which aims to contribute to the development and implementation of policy to protect the community from the adverse consequences of climate change and promote the potential of such policies to bring about public health benefits. CAHA was only established in August 2010 and is the first substantial attempt that WCHM has seen to connect climate change and health. Watch this space!

The Australian Women’s Register is a set of biographical data about Australian women and their organisations. The Register is part of the broader work of the Australian Women’s Archive Project and has come to life through a partnership between The National Foundation of Australian Women (NFAW) and The University of Melbourne. The Register is an invaluable hub of lists of and links to archived information about Australian women and women’s organisations. But more than this, there is also information about upcoming events and access to women focussed blogs.

Two women, named Ruby and Jasmine, believed so passionately that feminism remains an essential critical lens for looking at the world that they decided to create The Democracy Project. “The Democracy Project aims to collapse ‘women’s issues’ into broader societal discourse and debate, and show that a functioning democracy requires that we re-negotiate the boundaries between gender and society…done primarily through monitoring the media…for items that have repercussions for democracy, particularly as it intersects with gender issues.” The Democracy Project site is a bevy of articles from around the world highlighting the role of gender in all manner of social, political and economic affairs; even if it remains unclear how exactly the site aides in the process of democracy.

The Women’s Timeline—documenting major political, education, legal and social milestones for Australian women—was created by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) to celebrate the Centenary of International Women’s Day in 2011, funded by the Commonwealth Office for Women in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). The Timeline is a work in progress so you are encouraged to submit any information on significant historical events that are currently not included. This can be done by following the link to the Women’s Timeline.

Have you ever felt that periods and menstruation ought to be brought into the spotlight? Well, that is precisely the intention behind the Crimson Campaign, which aims to promote gender equality globally by advancing the considerations and respect around women and menstruation. Despite the fact that menstruation is a subject that is relevant to all women; it continues to be one of the root causes of women’s inequality throughout the world. The Campaign aims to create “respect around menstruation by all people in order to contribute more broadly to the advancement of the lives of women and girls”. Crimson Campaign is novel and innovative approach to women’s empowerment very worthy of checking out.

A Year of Feminist Classics is a project started by four book bloggers who share an interest in the feminist movement and its history. It is an online book club, which focuses on one central feminist text per month. The four young women who started the project set out to “gain a better historical understanding of the struggle for gender equality, as well as a better awareness of how the issues discussed in these now classic texts are still relevant in our times”. Some of the works on this year’s reading list include God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Gender Trouble by Judith Butler. The posts are well written and engaging, whether or not you’ve read the text being discussed.