In March the NCWNZ Safety, Health and Wellbeing Action Hub led the development of a NCWNZ submission to Manatū Hauora | Ministry of Health on New Zealand's first ever Women's Health Strategy. The Women's Health Strategy is a part of the Pae Ora (Health Futures) Act 2022 – the legislation for the country's new public health system.
NCWNZ branches and individual members made considered and informative responses to the Action Item and there was clear agreement on key points and priorities which were reflected in the submission.
Our submission emphasised the need for "early evidence of its [the Strategy's] impact, seen in real change for all women." We connected this inaugural Women's Health Strategy in New Zealand to international obligations, especially, New Zealand's commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Again Women (CEDAW).
We were pleased that the Strategy aligned with NCWNZ’s policy and approach, would take a gender-based approach, apply the different lenses of discrimination across all the strategies, and would be inclusive of gender diverse people, including trans women, bisexual, intersex, and non-binary people.
A point members stressed was that the major determinants of women's health lie outside of the health system. Low incomes, substandard, insecure housing, unaffordable healthy food, and the stress associated with poverty; and that there would not be significant improvements in the health of girls and women until we as a nation seriously tackle poverty, pay equity, housing, education, misogyny, and all forms of discrimination.
We wanted to see greater emphasis on the disproportionate health impacts on women from climate change disasters, the COVID pandemic and ongoing discrimination in our human rights and social support legislation. We also highlighted that existing inequalities are amplified by such crises, and we argued for a strategy that took immediate action to address the current health outcome disparities for wāhine Māori and women living in emergency, transitional or refuge housing with children. In addition, human rights and anti-discrimination legislation needed strengthening. We recommended in our submission both short- and medium-term priority actions that should be included in the Strategy.
The submission identified key issues for women within the health system that need to be addressed more thoroughly:
- Women with most and multiple disadvantage, e.g., wāhine Māori, Pasifika women, women who are disabled, trans women, bisexual, non-binary and intersex people.
- Cultural and religious differences.
- Bias in research and diagnosis.
- Lack of trust in many medical professionals due to their lack of knowledge and attitudes, e.g., "medical gaslighting"
The priority issues for women in the health system were identified:
- Women's reproductive role throughout the life course.
- Development of a maternal and perinatal health strategy and action plan from preconception through pregnancy and infant/child development.
- Workforce issues including recruitment and retention of midwives, attracting general practitioners (GPs) to obstetrics, and pay equity for all categories of nurses.
We provided a basis for an Action Plan for the Women's Health Strategy. It focused on women's specific life stages, and for each stage offered issues/needs together with suggested actions within 2-5 years.
The Strategy is due to be with the Minister of Health in July. When released we will be looking to see evidence our concerns have been addressed and of immediate- and medium-term concrete and resourced actions that make the Strategy a reality for women.
In election year, NCWNZ will be asking candidates about their commitment to the Strategy and it is important that individual members in their localities do as well.
For all the details, please download the submission (.pdf file) here.