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Sex and gender impact our health, and our access to health services

Gender can be a significant determinant of different health experiences and outcomes; understanding these differences is essential to improving outcomes and quality of life for all people in Australia.

At all stages of life, women are at greater risk of ill health than men. Women live longer on average than men, experience chronic health conditions at higher rates and experience poor mental health at higher rates. Women also have specific sexual and reproductive health needs that change over their lives, these can also impact or exacerbate other health conditions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience higher rates of comorbid conditions, including diabetes, breast, cervical and ovarian cancers than non-indigenous women.[29]

Women and girls in socioeconomically disadvantaged and marginalised group continue to experience poorer health outcomes than the general population. Women who experience family and intimate partner violence are more likely to report poor mental health, physical function and general health than other women.[30]

Growing evidence has shown that systemic issues in healthcare delivery and medical research mean women often suffer poorer health outcomes. Women disproportionately experience delayed diagnosis, overprescribing, and a failure to properly investigate symptoms. Symptoms of a heart attack, for example, are less likely to be recognised in women than in men. Women are less likely than men to receive appropriate treatment for heart disease, and rates of cardiovascular disease are 1.5 times higher for women in remote areas than in urban areas.

There are a range of intersecting factors, including discrimination, stigma, poor health literacy, lack of accessible and culturally appropriate services, gender norms, socio-economic disadvantage, geographic location and residency status that can act as barrier both to help seeking behaviours and receiving timely and appropriate health care. This also contributes to poorer health outcomes across some populations, including First Nations people, rural and remote communities, migrants and refugees, LGBTQI+ people and people with disabilities.

Additional barriers are often experienced by First Nations women and girls where poorer health outcomes are experienced due to the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma and limited access to culturally safe health care.

Harmful gender norms also contribute to increased health risks for men and boys including, for example, where men are less likely to seek health care and more likely to undertake harmful use of drugs and alcohol.

The Government has established a National Women’s Health Advisory Council to guide the delivery of the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30. The Council will focus on a range of concerns, especially health system bias and barriers to health equity for women and girls.


Australia has a National Women’s Health Strategy supported by an Advisory Council – how should the National Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality support this effort and reflect the role of health and wellbeing in achieving gender equality?

[29] National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030 | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care p.11

[30] National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030 | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care p.11