Disability and Menstruation…the not-so-white (in fact red) elephant in the room

By Jac Torres Gomez, WCHM Project Worker and co-founder of Crimson Caimpaign

In initially researching the topic of menstruation and disability, I thought that I would direct my focus to how women with a disability physically manage menstruation. As there are many different kinds of disability, there are thus many different ways to manage menstruation for these women. I thought that this would be a relatively uncomplicated though slightly taboo topic, and as an organisation that focuses on advocacy and research for women’s health matters, menstruation and disability seemed like a clear-cut focus for this e-bulletin edition focused on disability.

However, as I began my research, I realised that this theme is truly much more than just about physically managing menstruation for women with a disability and that this article would only be a drop in a dark complex ocean on this theme, even when aiming to primarily raise awareness for the general public. Even menstruation itself in many contexts is considered a taboo and a greater societal conversation needs to happen to ensure menstruation gains the respect and consideration it entails (Crimson Campaign, 2011). Delving further, when speaking of disability and reproductive rights, there are important undertones that speak about “non-therapeutic, forced sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities” (WWDA, year unknown), meaning these women are sterilised so they do not menstruate and become unable to have children (Brady, 2001). This shocking contrast to promoting human rights for women with disabilities made me realise there is much more to this conversation than meets the eye.

Stepping back slightly, for years, menstruation was debated as actually being, in itself, a disability for women (Kissling, 2009), and for those women living with a disability, menstruation was often only really discussed in the privacy of one’s home or with a doctor in his (oh the shame!) or her medical office.

But what actually is menstruation? Formally, menstruation is a hormonal process and is the shedding of the uterine lining (endometrium), which occurs monthly in most women of reproductive age. This includes several days of bleeding as the lining is shed (Women’s Health.Gov, 2009). However, menstruation is much more than just getting a period—women are affected by menstruation in other ways including emotionally and mentally; menstruation is complex.

Menstruation, in many societies, is considered something to be hidden, disadvantageous and also shameful. Women will often try to hide that they have their period, and may become embarrassed if a sanitary product falls out of their bag in public. The Society of Menstrual Research led a discussion on how menstruation could be considered a disability, explaining that:

in many industrialized countries…common colds can be acknowledged publicly, and allowances are made for them, but menstruation cannot be acknowledged and allowances are not made for it (Kissling, 2009).

This is also reflected in a study by Tomi-Ann Roberts and her colleagues that show revealing a woman’s menstrual status leads to more negative reactions to her and increased objectification of women in general (Roberts, Goldenberg, Power and Pyszczynski, 2002). Although menstruation is not a disability, the way that it is viewed and excluded means menstruation could possibly be perceived as a disability for the woman who is menstruating at the time.

Every woman has a unique experience of menstruation, and this applies to women with disabilities too. All women have the right to education, support and knowledge on the best way to manage and understand menstruation and understand their bodies during this process.

According to Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT, 2008), in most cases, a woman’s fertility is not disrupted by her disability, because ovulation and menstruation are controlled by hormones and it is a natural biological process. Most healthy women of reproductive age with a disability do menstruate, have done so since the onset of puberty and menstruate with the same regularity as their non-disabled peers.

Some women, including women with disabilities, have their periods come with little or no concerns, arriving at the same time monthly and not causing any particular inconvenience.

However, other women, including women with disabilities, may experience physical and/or emotional symptoms just before and during menstruation including heavy bleeding or missed periods, mood swings and tiredness (Healthy Women, 2011). For all women, if menstruation is difficult to manage one can discuss this with their health care professional who should offer support for managing these difficulties.

However, the question I am left asking is does this support include being able to discuss the stress of having to find money to cover the costs of menstrual products? Would my health care professional offer me financial support? Because for some women, this added monthly expense adds to the emotional symptoms of menstruation (Hoskins, 2011).

The cost of menstrual products can impact on women with a disability as much as they do with women without a disability, however any woman who is disadvantaged financially will feel an impact of the cost of menstrual products, particularly those with daughters who have also begun menstruation. Because women with disabilities are more likely to be affected by poverty than their non-disabled male counterparts (Commonwealth Government of Australia, 2010), the cost of menstruation can impact on an already tight household budget, and cause stress and guilt for woman in this situation, and possible further disadvantage for women with disabilities.

Apart from this, women with disabilities are more likely to face ill-health (Commonwealth Government of Australia, 2010) and strong menstrual symptoms can also have an impact on added discomfort and pain for those women already with ill health. This must be taken into consideration by society at large.

In closing, there are four important points to note in the discussion around menstruation and disability. The first is that generally, the management of menstruation is the same for all women—regardless of disability or cultural background. However one’s disadvantaged situation can have an impact on how it is managed, for example whether or not one has the money to purchase menstrual products or not. Secondly, menstruation is a healthy biological process that occurs for most women, regardless of disability or reproductive age, and should be considered a positive part of being a woman. Third, all women, including women with disabilities, have a right to the full range of management options and support for menstruation. And finally, but not least in importance, menstruation for women with disabilities is much more than a conversation about menstrual management and is linked to a broader conversation about the health and reproductive rights of women with disabilities. Although this article is just a drop in the ocean, further reading and investigation of this issue is encouraged.

Different organisations and individuals have done some fabulous work around menstruation and more broadly the reproductive rights of women with a disability. For further information please refer to the list of references below.

  • Crimson Campaign, <www.crimsoncampaign.org> Crimson Campaign is a movement promoting gender equality globally by advancing the considerations and respect around menstruation
  • The Period Blog, <https://myperiodblog.wordpress.com> presents some personal opinions on menstruation and includes two fantastic features on Down syndrome and also menstruation and seizures
  • Sexual Health and Planning ACT, <http://www.shfpact.org.au> Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT Inc is a health promotion charity based in Canberra, Australia. SHFPACT’s purpose is improved sexual and reproductive health for the Canberra Community
  • The Society of Menstrual Research, <http://menstruationresearch.org>, The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary research organization with membership that includes researchers in the social and health sciences, humanities scholars, health care providers, policy makers, health activists, and students with interests in the role of the menstrual cycle in women’s health and well-being
  • WWDA, <http://www.wwda.org.au> WWDA is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. WWDA’s work is grounded in a human rights based framework which links gender and disability issues to a full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights
  • Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT) <http://wwdact09.blogspot.com/> is a peer support and systemic advocacy group of women with disabilities who live in the ACT and region. WWDACT is involved in a number of projects which aim to improve the lives and life chances of all women with disabilities


  1. Commonwealth Government of Australia. National Women’s Health Policy 2010. 2010. http://health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/national+womens+health-1
  2. Crimson Campaign. Home. 2011
  3. Kissling, Elizabeth. Is Menstruation a Disability? Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. 2009. http://menstruationresearch.org/2009/11/19/is-menstruation-a-disability/
  4. Healthy Women. Menstrual Disorders. 2011. http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/menstrual-disorders
  5. Hoskins, Robin. “Menstruating While Homeless”. Crimson Campaign. 2011. http://www.crimsoncampaign.org/menstruating-while-homeless/
  6. Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT. Information for People with a Disability. 2008. http://www.shfpact.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=22&Itemid=54
  7. Brady, Susan. “Sterilization of Girls and Women with Intellectual Disabilities – Past and present justifications”. Violence Against Women. 7:4. 2001. Pp. 432-461.
  8. Roberts, Tomi-Anne, Goldenberg, Jamie, Power, Cathleen and Pyszczynski, Tom. “Feminine Protection: The Effects of Menstruation on Attitudes Towards Women”, Psychology of Women Quarterly. 26:2. 2002. Pp. 131-139. http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/26/2/131.short
  9. Women’s Health.Gov. Menstruation And The Menstrual Cycle Fact Sheet. 2009. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menstruation.cfm#a
  10. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). Moving Forward or Losing Ground? The Sterilisation of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Australia. http://www.wwda.org.au/steril3.htm

National Women’s Matters

Mental Health and the National Disability Insurance Scheme

By Laura Pound, Mental Health Project Worker, WCHM

On the 10th of August 2011 the Australian Government announced that it supports the Productivity Commission’s vision for a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and will “start work immediately on building the foundations for reform” (Prime Minister Press Office, 2011), although the scheme will not be fully operational for seven years. The NDIS proposes to overhaul the way in which disability services are funded and delivered, by providing more person-centred and individualised services. The announcement was met with much excitement but also some scepticism about whether the scheme the Government implements will meet expectations.

In the Autumn E-bulletin 2011, Nicole O’Callaghan from Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT) brought our attention to the fact that the NDIS—proposed in February this year in the Productivity Commission’s Disability Care and Support Inquiry report—is necessary because “the current system for long-term care and support within Australia is shameful. Australian citizens are not guaranteed adequate care and support if they acquire a severe disability” (O’Callaghan, 2011).

In her article Nicole also acknowledged that when it comes to the NDIS “there are a number of issues that need to be ironed out” (O’Callaghan, 2011). In June I attended a NDIS campaign forum Every Australian Counts (Every Australian Counts, 2011), where people with disabilities, carers and service providers voiced concerns about a range of these issues which require further thought and debate. This article seeks to explore one issue which has a big question mark in the proposed NDIS: the inclusion of people living with mental health issues.

The Productivity Commission outlines that people who have a severe and chronic mental health condition which requires daily support may be eligible for services funded by the NDIS, and this is reflected in some provisions in their cost estimates. If this were the case the NDIS would fund services that assist in recovery, psychosocial rehabilitation and daily support, while the mental health sector would continue to support consumer’s medical needs during the acute phase of illness. The mental health system would also continue to provide for those whose mental health conditions do not result in disability.

Both the disability and mental health sectors have long discussed whether mental illness should be defined as a disability. As Annelise Roberts from WCHM also discusses in this E-bulletin, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regards disability as “complex, dynamic, multidimensional, and contested” (WHO, 2011), with an increasing shift towards understanding its social rather than medical impacts. In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in Australia in 2008, includes disability arising from long term mental illness that “hinder[s]…full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (Productivity Commission, 2011).

Many in the disability sector argue that mental illness or ‘psycho-social disability’ should be included in the NDIS when it impacts on an individual’s daily functioning (Dignity for Disability, 2010). Mental health advocacy groups across Australia (including the Mental Health Council of Australia, the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum, QLD Alliance for Mental Health, Western Australian Association for Mental Health and Mental Health Coalition of South Australia) agree, arguing that there are similarities in the support needs of people with a physical disability and people with a severe and enduring mental illness. These support needs may include requiring assistance with mobility, communication, personal care, access to income, housing, employment, health and maintaining social connection.

Therefore, both the Productivity Commission and disability and mental health sectors theoretically advocate for the inclusion of people with disabling mental health issues in the NDIS. However, the Commission is wary of disability sector funding being used to supplement the under-funded and sometimes “poorly performing” (Productivity Commission, 2011) mental health sector. They argue that ideally, the best policy would be for the mental health system to be adequately funded and governed, because while the NDIS could “take over” non-acute mental health services, this might “encourage cost shifting by those funding the mental health system”, and risk losing the benefits of non-acute services being integrated into the wider mental health system. The Productivity Commission is seeking further feedback from the public and Government on “where the boundaries should be drawn and the implications for the NDIS’s costs, eligibility conditions, service offerings and integration with the mental health system” (Productivity Commission, 2011).

It is vital and ‘makes sense’ that people living with mental health issues are included in the NDIS for several reasons. To begin with, people disabled by mental illness should have access to adequate psychological and social rehabilitation, as would be provided through their inclusion in the NDIS. This would promote recovery and access to services in a more individualised and equitable manner, allowing greater choice than the current system (Queensland Alliance for Mental Health Inc, 2011).

In addition, including people disabled by mental illness in the NDIS makes sense because there is a high rate of co-morbidity between people who have physical disabilities and people who have mental health issues, so their ongoing support needs are best met by a system which caters for both physical and psychological health.

In line with principles of early intervention, investing in supporting people living with severe mental health issues also provides a ‘long-term return’ through their reduced use of acute services and increased engagement in employment. This is a particularly important point because 90 percent of the mental health ‘burden of illness’ relates to the disabling impact of mental illness, and people often experience early age of onset (Queensland Alliance for Mental Health Inc, 2011).

Finally, mental health should be included in the NDIS because it would be positive for women in the ACT, 3000 of whom access ACT mental health services annually and approximately a third of whom have ongoing connections with the sector (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2002). With greater person-centredness and control over supports, women with mental health issues would experience a more gender sensitive approach in a system which takes into account differences in the ways women experience mental illness including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and the influence of gender-stereotyping and lower social status (Judd, 2010).


  1. Australian Government, Productivity Commission. Disability Care and Support, Productivity Commission, Draft report, Volume 1. February 2011, http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disability-support/report
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia’s health 2002, Canberra, 2002.
  3. Dignity for Disability. Submission to the Productivity Commission on Draft Report Disability Care and Support, Overview and Recommendations. May 2011, http://www.d4d.org.au/Resources/Documents/NDIS%20Final%20Draft%20Document.pdf
  4. Disability Advocacy Network Australia. Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry in to Disability Care and Support. August 2010, http://dana.org.au/submissions-publications/submissions/
  5. Every Australian Counts: NDIS, Revolutionising disability services. www.everyaustraliancounts.org.au
  6. Mental Health Coalition of South Australia. Submission to Productivity Commission Report – Disability Care and Support – Introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). May 2011, http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disability-support/submissions
  7. O’Callaghan, Nicole. Disability Insurance Scheme and National Disability Strategy in Autumn E-bulletin 2011. Women’s Centre for Health Matters, 2011.
  8. Prime Minister Press Office. Productivity Commission’s final report into disability care and support. August 2011, http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/productivity-commissions-final-report-disability-care-and-support
  9. Queensland Alliance for Mental Health Inc. Queensland Alliance for Mental Health Submission to the Productivity Commission, Disability Care and Support – Introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. April 2011, http://www.qldalliance.org.au/submission-productivity-commission
  10. Sky News. Disability reform to ‘boost workforce’. July 30 2011, http://www.skynews.com.au/topstories/article.aspx?id=644497&vId=
  11. Western Australian Association for Mental Health. Submission to the Productivity Commission on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 2011, http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disability-support/submissions
  12. World Health Organisation. World Report on Disability. 2011, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240685215_eng.pdf

WHO World Report on Disability and WWDA’s latest position paper: Two Summaries

Annelise Roberts, Community Development Worker, WCHM

The World Health Organisation recently released its first ever World Report on Disability. The report provides a snapshot of disability across the globe, and aims to support the implementation of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Report is its data on worldwide disability. It estimates that there are between 785 and 975 million people aged 15 years and over living with a disability in the world (using 2010 population estimates)—a significant percentage of the population. The Report also finds that vulnerable groups (like women, people living in poverty, and older people) are especially likely to have a disability, and that the prevalence of disability is higher in lower income countries.

An interesting conversation that follows on from these statistics is about how disability is defined. As the Report outlines, disability is no longer simply seen as a matter of physical impairment. In more recent decades, disability has come to be seen as a complex concept with several different aspects—a “dynamic interaction between health conditions and contextual factors, both personal and environmental.” (p 4) In other words, people are ‘disabled’ not only by their bodies, but by their physical and social environments. This means that governments and communities have a large role to play in creating more inclusive physical and social environments to ensure that the impact of disability on people’s lives is minimised.

Like the WHO’s World Report on Disability, Women With Disabilities Australia’s (WWDA) policy paper “Assessing the situation of women with disabilities in Australia: A human rights approach” highlights the need for more research into and data on the situation of women with disabilities in Australia. This is important so that government, policy-makers, and service providers can see what needs are currently not being met, and to make sure that women with disabilities in Australia are able to enjoy the human rights they are entitled to.

Using a human rights framework the paper gives an overview of the links between gender and disability and documents the range of data, research and information needed to give a more comprehensive assessment of the situation of women with disabilities in Australia in order to meet to Australia’s international human rights obligations and domestic policy requirements.

These two reports have drawn attention to some important ongoing work for governments, service providers and communities, with the aim of ensuring that people with disabilities across the world live in inclusive environments, enjoy improved wellbeing and freedom, and no longer have to face discrimination and prejudice.

The National Women’s Alliances

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer,WCHM

In 2010 The Australian Government, through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) provided three-year recurrent funding for six National Women’s Alliances. The Alliances came about when, in late 2009, women’s organisations were invited to collaborate with other women’s organisations across Australia to submit an application to be funded as a National Women’s Alliance. The successful applicants and the resulting National Women’s Alliances were announced in March 2010.

The role of the Alliances is twofold. They aim to bring together women’s organisations and individuals from across Australia to share information and identify issues and solutions, and engage actively with the Australian Government on policy issues as part of a better, more informed and representative dialogue between women and government.

The Alliances are made up of a mix of sector-based and issues-based women’s groups each with a distinct focus and a strong capacity for networking and advocacy activities. The issues-based Alliances are: economic Security for Women (eS4W), Equality Rights Alliance (ERA) and Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA). The sector-based Alliances are: National Rural Women’s Coalition and Network (NRWC&N), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA) and The Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance (AIRWA).

The Alliances were recently funded an additional $50,000 to undertake projects on emerging issues effecting women and gender equality. The projects are:

  1. Multicultural women’s experiences in Australia—Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance (AIRWA). AIRWA will prepare an online video and print advertising campaign highlighting the adversity faced by immigrant and refugee women integrating into Australian society.
  2. Impacts and opportunities of new media technologies for feminism—Equality Rights Alliance (ERA). ERA will assess the impact of new technologies and communication on young women and develop a new website as an online place for young women to share views, connect with the women’s movement and gain access to mentoring.
  3. Gender appropriate economic responses to natural disasters—Economic Security for Women (eS4W). eS4W will turn a gender lens on disaster affected areas in Queensland and Victoria, and identify a range of gendered approaches addressing the economic empowerment needs of women affected by natural disasters.
  4. Empowering rural women to lead their community in the implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children—National Rural Women’s Coalition and Network (NRWCN) and Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA). NRWCN and AWAVA will work together to develop a toolkit and guide to support women to implement the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The resources will focus on preventing violence before it occurs by working to change underlying causes.
  5. Developing disaster resilient rural communities—National Rural Women’s Coalition and Network (NRWCN). NRWCN will develop a toolkit and manual supporting women in rural, regional and remote communities to undertake leadership roles in disaster preparation.
  6. Superannuation issues for Indigenous women—National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA). NATSIWA will focus on superannuation issues for Indigenous women through consultation with Indigenous women, government and industry stakeholders.

ACT Women’s Matters

WWDACT update

Nicole O’Callaghan, Admin/Policy Officer WWDACT

Women with disabilities are one of the most marginalised and segregated groups in the Australian community and in the ACT this is no different. For approximately 16 years the economic, physical and emotional wellbeing of women with disabilities in the ACT was vigorously represented, encouraged and supported by a collective of volunteers. This collective is made up of some of the most resourceful, respectful and resilient community leaders in the ACT who are driven by a remarkable sense of social justice and inclusion.

Last year Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT) was finally recognised as a valid and important disability advocacy organisation and awarded operational funding—$10,000 from Disability ACT and $10,000 from the ACT Health Directorate. From October 15 2010 to June 30 2011, this funding enabled WWDACT to operate as a paid professional entity, auspiced by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, and to employ—for the first time—a part-time Policy/Administration Officer to plan, undertake systemic advocacy, support members and make formal submissions to government inquiries and consultations.

During the recent ACT Budget Consultation, WWDACT was awarded recurrent funding of $70,000 per year to formally become the Territory’s third disability advocacy organisation. This will enable the organisation to make the transition from a voluntary unstaffed organisation to one which is funded to undertake long term systemic advocacy for women with disabilities in the ACT. WWDACT is currently recruiting for a second part-time Policy/Projects Officer.

WWDACT actively works to further the status of women with disabilities in the ACT and envisages a time when barriers of any sort are no longer present for women with disabilities and when women with disabilities in the ACT are empowered to fully partake in the ACT community. WWDACT is actively working under the frameworks of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in partnership with the ACT Government, to achieve a more holistic society.

WWDACT’S Administration/Policy Officer, Nicole O’Callaghan, was interviewed by ABC journalist Adam Shirley about the effect of Canberra city design and planning for people with disabilities. Parts of this interview were featured on 7:30 ACT on July 22 and can be accessed at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-22/canberra-access/2807062

Are you interested in the experiences and needs of women living with mental health issues in the ACT?

Laura Pound, Mental Health Project Worker, WCHM

The ACT Women and Mental Health Working Group (WMHWG) is a group of women working together on matters impacting women living with mental health issues in the ACT, supported by WCHM. The Group has been meeting since August 2007 and was formed to provide a regular forum in which women living with mental health issues and supportive service providers could come together and identify and consider the current issues facing this group of ACT women, and to develop and implement strategies to influence positive change. The WMHWG not only identifies issues impacting on women with mental health issues in the ACT but also works towards providing improved outcomes for those women, developing women friendly services, documenting the stories of women and ensuring their voices are heard in the mental health sector.

Over the past year, achievements of the WMHWG include advising and supporting WCHM to:

  • Develop and launch the research report Out of Reach, Women living with mental health issues in the ACT: What hinders their access to legal support?
  • Conduct two research projects into peer support for women living with mental health issues in the ACT and women who are mental health carers
  • Provide submissions to Government consultations and Parliamentary inquiries advocating for women living with mental health issues in the ACT
  • Advocate for women living with mental health issues in the ACT through participating in ACT Health Directorate working groups and various ACT mental health forums, and working with mental health peak organisations

The WMHWG meets bi-monthly. Members of the WMHWG currently include women mental health consumers and carers, representatives of service providers and advocacy organisations, and government representatives.

ACT Prevention of Violence Against Women Strategy

On 22 August the ACT Minister for Women, Joy Burch, launched the ACT Prevention of Violence against Women and Children Strategy 2011-2017, Our Responsibility: Ending Violence Against Women and Children.

The ACT Strategy has been developed in line with the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 which aims to improve collaboration between governments and foster innovative ideas to bring about change.

The Strategy is a whole of government and community response to violence against women and children, and is a joint strategy with the ACT Attorney General. The purpose of the Strategy is to involve the whole community in upholding and respecting the rights of women and children in the ACT to live free from fear and the experience of violence.

The Strategy focusses on prevention, early intervention and support services, holding those who use violence accountable and helping them to change their behaviour. Ms Burch said, “those who use violence need to know that their behaviour is wrong, that the community also thinks it is wrong and that they will be held accountable for their actions. As a community it is our responsibility to continue to have a public conversation about violence against women and children, because if we remain silent, we are complicit.”

WCHM was involved in the development of the Strategy through involvement in a Roundtable and as part of a Reference Group which provided more targeted consultation on the ACT Strategy.

Government Consultation on Walk In Centre

An independent evaluation of the nurse-led ACT Health Walk In Centre was released by the ACT Government last week. The evaluation was compiled by representatives of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute and The Australian National University. This report confirms that the implementation of this first nurse led Walk-in Centre is having a positive impact on patients and practitioners across the Territory, and highlights that 84% of patients surveyed would definitely recommend the Walk-in Centre to family and friends, with 82% stating that they would definitely use the Walk-in Centre again. There are many positive findings in the report and there are also some areas of improvement. The ACT Government’s Health Directorate is now engaging in a six week public consultation period on the report, from Thursday 18 August to Close of Business (COB) on Thursday 29 September.

WCHM knows from our research that the Walk In Centre offers a good alternative for ACT women which complements the services already being provided by emergency departments and GPs, and we will be providing a submission to the consultation. If you have any feedback or comments about the report, please let us know so that we can incorporate feedback into our WCHM response.

WCHM Matters

Reclaim What? Forum

On Wednesday August 3, WCHM, on behalf of the ACT Women’s Services Network, and in conjunction with the ANU Women’s Collective hosted a discussion forum on Reclaim the Night and SlutWalk. A major topic of discussion on the night was the ideological tensions between Reclaim the Night and SlutWalk—for example, Reclaim has traditionally been a women-only event, whereas SlutWalk has been promoted as an event for everyone. Some audience members and panellists found these differences to be very significant; Veronica Wensing, manager of the ACT Office for Women and forum panellist, argued that there were good reasons for keeping Reclaim the Night a ‘women-only’ event, and expressed major reservations about reclaiming the word ‘slut’ as a term of empowerment. On the other hand, panellist and ANU student Courtney Sloane commented that the focus on differences between the movements was counter-productive, and distracted from the anti-sexual violence agenda that Reclaim and SlutWalk share.

The forum panel included: Veronica Wensing (ACT Office for Women), Tim Bavinton (Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT), Gaik Cheng Khoo (ANU the School of Cultural Inquiry), Courtney Sloane (National Union of Students) and Colin Aslin (ANU Organisation of Critical Students).

An important outcome from the Reclaim What? forum was the consensus that it’s okay for anti-sexual violence campaigning to be varied, to take a number of different forms, and to deal with a number of different issues. Sexual violence is too broad an issue to be dealt with in a single annual protest, and campaigns need to keep adapting to changing social contexts if they’re going to succeed. In this way, the forum supported the Women’s Services Network’s commitment to run a summer-long anti-sexual violence campaign commencing with Reclaim the Night on Friday 28 October 2011 and wrapping up with International Women’s Day on 7 March 2012. This campaign is called the ACT Women’s Services Network’s Summer of Respect (read more below), the organisation of which will be led by WCHM.

CALD Network Introduction

After the release of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Women in the Australian Capital Territory report in 2009, WCHM held a forum with service providers who work with clients from CALD backgrounds to discuss how the report’s recommendations could be moved forward. One finding from the forum was that there are very few CALD women in leadership roles in the ACT and that, because of this, there is a wider lack of representation to government and community on CALD women’s issues. In response to this, forum participants suggested that there should be more collaboration across the different agencies that work with and represent CALD women, in order to strengthen representation, share information, and consolidate resources in the interests of improving health and wellbeing outcomes for CALD women.

Following on from this WCHM has worked over the last 6 months with the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum (CMCF) and Multicultural Women’s Advocacy (MWA) to develop the CALD Women’s Network. It is a group of organisations that have an interest in the issues that affect women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in the ACT. These organisations will use the network to work together to advocate on behalf of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, in order to influence local policy and service delivery. Ultimately, the CALD Women’s Network aims to:

  • Raise awareness of the issues that CALD women face in the ACT
  • Collaborate and consult on a review of the access and equity issues that women from CALD backgrounds encounter in the ACT
  • Ensure that the views and concerns of women from CALD backgrounds in the ACT are heard
  • Identify opportunities and develop strategies to address these concerns
  • Share knowledge around the key areas of health, leadership, prevention of violence against women, ageing, and employment/workforce participation

The network meets bi-monthly. If you are interested in becoming a member, or would like more information about how you can become involved, please contact Annelise at WCHM via phone 6290 2166 or email a.roberts@wchm.org.au.

Summary of Mark Butler’s Presentation

As advised in the last e-bulletin, WCHM Executive Director Marcia Williams attended the address to the National Press Club by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler called Delivering a better mental health system for all Australians. In his address, the Minister highlighted the challenges for mental health given that one in six Australians experiences a mental illness in any given year and that mental illness is the largest single cause of disability—responsible for one-quarter of the total burden of non-fatal disease in Australia.

Minster Butler highlighted the unprecedented level of community debate and discussion over the past year about the future of mental health services in Australia, and the momentum that has built up behind reforming Australia’s mental health system. He also stressed that mental health reform depends on much more than health policy and emphasised the importance of considering mental health in the contexts of the social determinants such as housing, employment, education and personal and family support.

The Minister spoke about the Federal Budget delivering the largest package of new mental health measures in Australian history, and the breadth of its scope across the whole of the lifespan—from initiatives for the early childhood years and youth to adults with severe and chronic mental illness. He announced improvements in targeting for the Better Access program in response to a recent evaluation which showed that the richest quintile (or 20% of Australians) accessed 2½ times the number of services, attracting three times the Medicare dollars in rebates compared to the poorest quintile of our community.

Last but not least the Minister announced the creation of the first National Mental Health Commission as an executive agency within the Prime Minister’s portfolio—reporting to her and the Parliament rather than to a Department—and described its role as focussing on: tackling outcomes more than inputs—instead of just asking how many beds there are in the system, asking how many people have got off the streets into stable housing, how many are no longer regularly re-presenting to emergency departments, and how many are re-connecting to the workforce, to their family and to society more broadly.

Stakeholder Survey Results

Thank you to all those members who responded to the WCHM Stakeholder Survey which was sent out to key stakeholders from the previous twelve months in July. We had a good response, and many positive comments, including the following:

  • WCHM has an excellent professional profile. The work that the organisation has undertaken and produced in the last two years has been exemplary and I have appreciated the opportunity to contribute to WCHM stakeholder discussions and survey work. The effort that has been put into submissions and reports shows dedication to the task of uncovering genuine areas of need and ways to meet this need for women in our community. The response from Government has been positive and supportive, and we hope to see greater evidence that identified gap areas will be addressed as a result of WCHM’s work. I have been most impressed with the project planning, development of communication and survey materials, dissemination and the access made available for participation.
  • There was a time when the future of WCHM looked uncertain. I personally think the choice to go the way of research and policy input was well-advised. Women and women’s organisations need a lobby group for health issues and WCHM is providing that.
  • I think that your support of and co-advocacy work with other women’s groups is very powerful e.g. Women With Disabilities ACT and the Women in Prisons group. Your cross referencing with other women’s groups in various documents that you all provide to government ensures consistent policy messages are received by the reader.
  • WCHM has been particularly successful in developing research and evidence-based submissions. My impression is that WCHM has also been successful in presenting its case in face-to-face advocacy.
  • Successful through your brilliant research work which is published and well distributed. I refer to it often in my work in government.

The following is a summary of the survey findings:

  • 95 percent of respondents said that they had a good understanding of what WCHM stands for and is trying to achieve
  • 78 percent of respondents said that they thought WCHM had been successful or very successful in working to influence policy and service delivery that affect ACT women’s health and wellbeing through advocacy
  • 81 percent of respondents said that they thought WCHM had been successful or very successful in working with and supporting other organisations to develop their capacity to improve ACT women’s health and wellbeing
  • 83 percent of respondents said that they thought WCHM had been successful or very successful in identifying and highlighting the issues for socially isolated or marginalised women in the ACT
  • 100 percent of respondents said that they thought WCHM’s reputation over the last year was getting better or much better or had remained at about the same level
  • Respondents listed the following as strengths of WCHM: networking with others, reports and submissions, professionalism of the organisation and its staff, knowledge and expertise of the organisation and its staff and keeping stakeholders informed of progress.

WCHM staff and Board are also looking at how we might respond to some of the suggestions for improvements.

Update on ACT Women And Prisons Group

Over the last quarter, the ACT Women And Prisons (WAP) Group, supported and auspiced by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, has continued to work hard to progress its agenda and advocate for the human rights of all women involved in the criminal justice system in the ACT.

WAP’s diverse and varied work has kept members busy. WAP members with lived experience of prison have continued to be involved in conducting peer support with women incarcerated at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, talking with women and listening to their concerns, and advocating on behalf of these women to AMC staff and the ACT Department of Corrections. WCHM and WAP also met recently with representatives from the Department of Corrections to discuss ways to clarify the complaints mechanism for women in the AMC and formalise WAP’s peer support arrangement with the AMC. The meeting was very encouraging and is the start of a series of conversations.

With the assistance of funding from the ACT Office For Women, members from WAP recently attended the 6th biannual international Sisters Inside Conference in Sydney: ‘Is Prison Obsolete?’ This was an important opportunity for WAP members, as it gave them the chance to share stories, exchange information, meet new contacts and old friends, and hear the latest international research on the state of women in prisons around the globe. Speakers included Deb Kilroy (CEO of Sisters Inside), Angela Davis (prominent academic, author, and activist), as well as Australian and international academics, government representatives, community service providers, and women with lived experience of prison. It was an invaluable experience which will contribute a great deal to informing WAP’s work, and has left WAP members feeling inspired and impassioned. WAP members will shortly facilitate a post-conference meeting to share their learnings with key stakeholders.

And finally—WAP now has its own website! A sub-site of the WCHM website, it is full of information about who is involved in WAP and what they do. You can also read WAP submissions and reports, learn about WAP’s achievements, and access other documents and research relating to women and prison. Visit it at www.wchm.org.au/WAP/home.

WCHM Women at Work



WCHM’s research has found that the views of older women and women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds are not reaching the ears of Government, service providers, or businesses. This means that when programs, policies or services are being designed, the interests of these groups of women are being ignored.

The “empower” project will address this problem by supporting older women and women from CALD backgrounds to participate in representation, decision-making roles and community consultation processes. Ultimately, we hope to see that these women have a say on issues that affect them and that they develop the skills to play a more active role within their communities.

There are a number of aspects to the empower project. WCHM is partnering with the Health Care Consumers Association (HCCA) and the Zonta Breakfast Club of Canberra to develop and deliver a pilot leadership training program to mature women and multicultural women from within the ACT community. WCHM is in the process of consulting women from the target groups about what they would like to see in the content for the training modules, with the support of representatives from organisations such as the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, the Canberra Seniors Centre, and the ACT branch of National Seniors Australia. Beyond the delivery of the training, the empower project will also seek to engage Government, community and business representatives in committing to initiatives that will make it easier for older women and CALD women to participate in public decision-making roles—for example, by better promoting opportunities for women to be involved in boards, consultation processes, or committees.

Report into peer support for women living with mental health issues in the ACT

Laura is very excited that WCHM’s research into best practice peer support and the peer support needs and experiences of women in the ACT is coming to a close, with the final report due to be launched during Mental Health Week in October. The research revealed that women peer support participants experience positive impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, self esteem and confidence, and social connectedness. The research also found that peer support is a mechanism of health promotion and that women prefer single-sex peer support for a range of reasons. Along with the release of a formal report, WCHM will develop and distribute a user-friendly Resource Kit for Mental Health Peer Support.

Co-launch of reports on peer support and social connectedness

WCHM’s report on peer support will be co-launched on Friday October 15 with a report on older women and social connectedness. Many of you may recall that University of Canberra Community Development student Kat Darlington undertook the research for this project in the second half of 2010 by completing a literature review, surveying 74 older women and hosting two focus groups, one with older women and one with service providers who have older women as clients. The final report explores the key themes that emerged throughout the research as affecting older women’s social connectedness and discusses what these mean for older women, policy makers and service providers in the ACT. Invitations to the launch will be sent out closer to the date so pencil it in early!

Survey of women with disabilities

Throughout the second half of 2011, and in consultation with Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT), WCHM will be surveying women living with disabilities in the ACT in order to collect data about their experiences. This dataset will be the first set of its kind focusing specifically on women with disabilities in the ACT and will both inform and provide evidence for WWDACT’s and WCHM’s advocacy work.

Older women safety audits update

The Older Women’s Safety Audits Project is progressing well since beginning in June 2011. We have formed a steering committee to guide the development and implementation of the project, and recently completed an online survey on safety in public spaces where we received over 100 responses from older women in the ACT. Many thanks to those women who provided input to the survey and to our partners and stakeholders who shared this survey with their networks. The responses received were very informative and useful and will inform several focus groups and the actual audits that we will conduct in the next few months. We have been engaging with different groups of older women in the ACT and surrounding areas and speaking to them about their safety concerns in public spaces, and value the input from these women. We look forward to sharing our continued findings with the ACT community later in the year.

Summer campaign

This year, rather than just hosting the Reclaim the Night event, the ACT Women’s Services Network (WSN) will be running Summer of Respect, a summer-long campaign against sexual violence. The ACTWSN Summer of Respect will be a string of events and public awareness initiatives in the ACT, beginning with Reclaim the Night on 28 October and wrapping up with International Women’s Day on 8 March 2012. Summer of Respect will aim to expand the scope of anti-sexual violence campaigning in the ACT by having a prolonged and varied campaign that engages the community in a range of activities and conversations.

WCHM is contributing to the campaign in a number of ways. Firstly, WCHM has taken a lead role in coordinating the calendar of contributions to the campaign through writing and sending out an invitation for submissions; working with local artist Helani Laisk to develop the artwork for the campaign; and arranging an Avant Card campaign that will promote the campaign. WCHM is also contributing by taking a lead role in organising the Reclaim the Night event, which will launch Summer of Respect.

So far there has been enormous enthusiasm for the Summer of Respect with services already nominating what they will do to contribute. For example, some of the events proposed so far include a film screening, a fundraising event, outreach activities with young CALD women and an event for young Indigenous women. Invitations to contribute to the campaign are currently being circulated and a calendar of events will be finalised in September.

If you would like to know more about or get involved in the ACTWSN Summer of Respect please call Angela Carnovale or Annelise Roberts on 6290 2166 or email a.carnovale@wchm.org.au or a.roberts@wchm.org.au.


Hello from Annelise

As WCHM’s new Community Development Worker, I support groups of women—especially those experiencing disadvantage—to help to improve their health and wellbeing outcomes. At the moment I am working with several different community groups, including those that represent women ex-prisoners, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and women with disabilities. Prior to coming to WCHM I worked as a research and project officer at Reconciliation Australia, and earlier this year completed a volunteer stint in Delhi, India, with an organisation that advocates for sexuality rights. I have a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Gender, Sexuality and Culture Studies from ANU, and spend my spare time watering my succulents.

Hello from Jac

I am working at WCHM as project Officer for the Older Women’s Safety Audits Project, and also developing the WCHM Online Health and Wellbeing Hub. Beyond work I am currently studying for a Masters in International and Community Development, and also completing a learning program at the Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs.

I have previously come from the public health and international community development sectors, where I worked in the area of alcohol-related harm among young people, urban planning, disability, gender, economic development and education.

I have a particular interest in education in fragile contexts, environmental sustainability and also the role consideration and respect of menstruation plays in advancing the lives of women and girls globally. Supporting this, I co-founded and co-manage The Crimson Campaign, which uses five key areas of action to address barriers of menstruation facing women and girls.

Hello from Rozi

I am currently studying part time for my Masters degree in Social Work and joined WCHM in July 2011 on placement to undertake a research project on older women and depression in the ACT, a project which continues my interest in the area of Positive Ageing. This scoping study aims to identify the gaps in current knowledge about the experiences and needs of older women (aged 65 and over) in the ACT living with depression in order to identify areas for future research initiatives/projects at the WCHM.

Beyond study I’m a fulltime mum and chef to two adorable young children with tricky food intolerances. My other interests include kitchen gardens, nutrition and baking. I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, specialising in Employment Relations and embarked on a journey into retail management, customer service and other people related roles. I’m currently convenor of Meg’s Toybox, a volunteer-run community toy library in Hackett that operates under the auspices of and from St Margaret’s Uniting Church. I also work in a speciality toy shop and as a relief child care worker.

Worth Checking Out…

Some of you may remember that in the Spring E-bulletin 2010, we wrote an article on the new Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, and looked at the work she had started in her previous portfolio to develop a Government agenda on positive body image. We are happy to report that this work is continuing under the now Minister for Youth, Peter Garrett, who last week released a series of body image information sheets. The information sheets completed by Deakin University cover the following topics: what body image is; body image dissatisfaction and who it affects; why body image is important; the causes of negative body image; and things that individuals can do to improve their body image. The information sheets are a welcome resource in an area that—despite its prevalence in our society—is still difficult to find information on and while they are very brief insights into a very complex topic, they are well-written, gender specific (for young women and young men) and pack a whole lot of information and suggestion into one page. We like these, check them out!

Australia’s Knowledge Gateway is a search engine that enables access to research from across the Group of Eight universities: Australian National University, University of Western Australia, University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, University of New South Wales and University of Sydney and acts as a link between research and business, community and government. The great thing about this search engine is that you can search by publication, people or projects, which means you are not limited to only finding research papers and publications, but will also be able to find researchers focussing on particular areas as well as projects that are currently underway.

We recently stumbled upon a report from the Productive Ageing Centre, which, it turns out, is undertaking a range of “quality consumer oriented research informed by the lived experience of people aged 50 years and over”. The Centre has recently published reports on the experiences of Australians from migrant backgrounds, older volunteers in Botanic Gardens, age discrimination in employment and productive ageing in rural communities. Particularly interesting is the Centre’s Atlas of Productive Ageing—a map of regional statistics on population, health, finance, housing and activity for Australians over 50. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in or conducting research on ageing in Australia. If you don’t check it out now, definitely keep it as a reference.