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Priority area 4: Health

Over many decades in Australia and around the world, women's control over their health has been challenged, especially their sexual and reproductive health. Women also face gender bias in the health system, which can prevent or delay their health conditions being properly diagnosed and treated. Men experience challenges too, including attitudes and stereotypes that can deter them from accessing health services.

Equality cannot be achieved when women's choices are constrained and men, women and gender diverse people are not receiving the health care they need.

A lack of support for women's health not only affects their everyday wellbeing, it also impacts how they participate and thrive at work. Women who experience violence also have poorer health outcomes and the health system plays an important role in supporting women to leave and recover from violence. For First Nations women and girls, the enduring impact of intergenerational trauma and lack of access to culturally safe health care persistently contribute to poorer health outcomes. Migrant and refugee women; women with disability; culturally and linguistically diverse women; and people in regional, remote and rural communities also face additional barriers due to religious or cultural values and beliefs, language and communication challenges or a lack of access. Overall, men have much higher rates of suicide than women. Men are often expected to be emotionally stable, strong and self-reliant, which may prevent them from seeking help.Note 101

To achieve gender equality, the health system needs to respond to the needs of women, men and gender diverse people. The Government must use its levers and work with states and territories to ensure all Australians can exercise choice and have healthy lives.

See Data snapshot – health for further analysis.

What have we heard?

'Whether it is health, medicine, housing, the office – it's all designed for men. Air‑conditioning, desks are set for men. Medicines and treatments are tested on men. It's like we don't exist. So taking a gender-informed approach to tackling the systems and processes that hold women back is crucial.'

— Respondent, public survey, April 2023

What we'll do:
Australian Government actions

The Australian Government leads a national approach on health through policies and programs, subsidies for health services and medicines, regulation of medical devices and treatments and work with states and territories to deliver a vision for greater health and wellbeing for all Australians – particularly those at greatest risk of poor health.

What structural change looks like: women's health

Research indicates that closing the gap in women's health – namely through providing better, more targeted and effective treatments for women, improving care delivery and addressing a lack of data – could save the global economy USD $1 trillion.Note 102 The Australian Government's National Women's Health Advisory Council will provide insights across these areas. In parallel, the Government is making targeted investments and broader health system reforms that aim to improve health outcomes for women.

As a targeted intervention for women's health, the Government has established 22 Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain clinics across every state and territory. The clinics will help women get the answers and help they need, and reduce the average time of 6 to 8 years that women spend waiting for a diagnosis. These clinics will help the one in 7 women who have endometriosis get early access to multidisciplinary intervention, care and treatment.

At a health system level, the Government has introduced a new Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) item for general practitioner consultations that are 60 minutes or longer. The longer consultations will provide improved access and affordability for patients with chronic conditions and complex needs. While this is a change available to all, historically longer MBS consultations are used by women.

To address gender inequities in research funding, in October 2022 the Government introduced targets for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to award equal numbers of investigator grants to women and men at senior levels of the Investigator Grant Scheme. By December 2023, the NHMRC had achieved gender equity in the scheme for the first time, reaching its target of 50:50 funding for men and women researchers.

Actions underway

To ensure Australians have healthier lives, the Government has already made a number of investments and reforms, building on the National Women's Health Strategy 2020–2030 and the National Men's Health Strategy 2020–2030. The Government has:

  • established the National Women's Health Advisory Council to provide the Government with advice and recommendations to improve health outcomes for women and girls and address gender bias in the health system
  • created a NHMRC target to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men
  • established Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain Clinics to provide expert, multidisciplinary care to women seeking specialised care.

In addition, the Government will continue to:

  • implement Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031 to improve health and mental health outcomes for people with disability
  • consider gender impacts in any future reforms to Australian Government health funding through Medicare and state and territory agreements under the National Health Reform Agreement so health systems can cover health needs equitably
  • consider reforms to make access to sexual and reproductive health care easier
  • support data that improves understanding of health outcomes for women
  • develop a strategy to improve health outcomes for LGBTIQA+ people.

Future directions

To further accelerate progress, directions for future effort include:

  • further research, awareness and policy responses on the impacts of reproductive health issues and access to services, particularly in remote areas and including peri-menopause and menopause, on women's health and wellbeing and economic security
  • enhancing the evidence base used to support the safety, efficacy and quality of medicines and medical devices
  • enhancing training for healthcare workers to identify and support victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence
  • improving culturally responsive health services and support for culturally and linguistically diverse women
  • partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop and implement strategies, programs and initiatives to improve health and wellbeing that work towards the Closing the Gap Priority Reforms and socio-economic outcomes and targets 1, 2 and 14.

What others can do:
action outside of government

Within families and social groups, men can be encouraged and assisted to seek support for their health concerns. Men being open and transparent about health challenges, including mental health, can help break down the stigma associated with help seeking and shift gender norms.

The healthcare sector, including healthcare professionals, medical institutions, medical bodies and insurers, can identify and minimise gender bias in health practice, research and funding. This includes promoting gender equitable practices in leadership, training, clinical care and diagnosis. Health and training institutions, both public and private, must incorporate gender considerations into their policies and programs, acknowledging the varying risks, impacts and access to services experienced by different genders.

Health services can employ a strength-based model that focusses on empowering and harnessing the strengths of First Nations women and migrant and refugee women, and ensure health professionals are supported to engage culturally safe approaches.

Health institutions, employers and society can also play a key role to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and seeking support, through awareness-raising and education initiatives in their communities, addressing barriers to help-seeking, and encouraging more men to come forward for support when they need it.

Employers can also support women to manage their health needs in the workplace, especially when related to chronic conditions and reproductive health, such as menstruation, menopause, and endometriosis.

How we'll measure progress

The Australian Government will measure and report on the following ambitions and outcomes to demonstrate that change is happening. Where applicable, these ambitions and outcomes align with the National Women's Health Strategy 2020–2030, the National Men's Health Strategy 2020–2030.

Ambition: Gender equity in healthcare access and outcomes.

Key outcomes:

  • the healthcare system recognises and is responsive to gendered health issues and provides women and men with increased access to information, diagnosis, treatment and services
  • women have choice and access to safe and affordable maternal, sexual and reproductive health care
  • the mental health of women, men and gender diverse people improves.

Data snapshot – Health

Sex and gender are key determinants of health and wellbeing, and men and women have very different experiences of mental and physical illness and the healthcare system in Australia.Note 103

  • Around one in 3 women experience trauma in childbirth, with one in 8 of these women experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress.Note 104
  • Approximately one in 7 women by the age of 44 to 49 are diagnosed with endometriosis – with diagnosis taking on average between 6 to 8 years.Note 105
  • Men experience higher rates of heart disease and more men die from heart disease than women.Note 106 Women who suffer a heart attack are half as likely to receive proper treatments and twice as likely to die as men.Note 107

Medical research, diagnostic tools and treatment have historically been based on male physiology, and inaccurate and sometimes harmful assumptions about women's physiology. This means that healthcare providers may disregard, minimise or not believe women's symptoms and that knowledge about women's health has not been appropriately researched. Women, girls and gender diverse people often face challenges when it comes to getting the right diagnosis and treatment for health issues. Doctors may not recognise the problem, get it wrong, or take a long time to figure it out. As a result, women do not receive adequate treatment. Gender bias also impacts men. Research shows men admitted to hospital for illnesses that predominantly affect women, such as some metabolic disorders, face higher risk of death than women.Note 108

While women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders and be hospitalised for self-harm, the suicide rate of men is more than 3 times that of women in Australia.Note 109 The suicide rate of First Nations people is approximately 2.5 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.Note 110

Women are more likely to have higher costs for health care, for example they are more likely to experience a chronic condition or see a general practitioner.Note 111 In addition to the cost of accessing health care, poor health can also impact economic security. Alongside physical and emotional impacts, the high cost of fertility treatments adds financial stress. It is estimated that 60% of Australian women will experience mild to moderate menopausal symptoms and 20% will have severe symptoms. The economic impact of menopause is estimated to add up to $15.2 billion in lost income and superannuation for each year of early retirement.Note 112

Women who experience family and domestic violence are more likely to report poorer mental health and general health.Note 113 The impact of family and domestic violence on women's illness, disability and premature death is particularly prevalent for young women and pregnant women.Note 114

First Nations women, culturally and linguistically diverse women, migrant and refugee women, women with disability, people in regional, remote and rural communities, and sex and gender diverse people also face additional barriers to accessing appropriate healthcare services that are able to cater to their needs and provide tailored support.

A stethoscope