Editorial: Making rural women's health and wellbeing a priority

  • Woman walking outside

The health of families or communities depends largely on the health of women. The usual role of main carer, coupled with negative social and economic conditions, can have a detrimental impact on a woman’s overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, it’s vital to dedicate time and effort to creating awareness of issues critical to women so that they, and the community at large, have a healthy life.

Partyline Issue 80 aims to achieve just that and is dedicated to discussing such issues while marking National Women’s Health Week in September. We also mark the International Days of Rural Women (October 15) and the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25). Both are dedicated to promoting women’s health and wellbeing and ensuring their rights are protected. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, another healthcare concern significant to women.

Rural, regional and remote women make up one-third of Australia’s women and their needs and conditions are vastly different from those living in metropolitan areas. This is mainly due to socioeconomic conditions, coupled with challenges in healthcare accessibility. Partyline brings to light the many challenges, as well as innovative models of healthcare targeting rural women.

The National Rural Health Alliance has called for urgent action to reimagine and support innovative models to bridge the gap in healthcare accessibility in rural areas. The 16th National Rural Health Conference, held in August, gave significant space and a unique platform to discuss challenges, including those faced by rural women in accessing health care. There is special mention of these discussions in a Conference wrap-up piece, as well as one on the well-received arts and health program at the Conference.

Partyline Issue 80 has a rich array of contributions from across Australia with topics focused on rural women’s health and wellbeing. There is concerning data juxtaposed with inspiring stories of how challenges are being overcome, one step at a time.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) provides strong evidence to support decisions which lead to better health and welfare outcomes for all Australians, especially mothers and babies in remote areas. Their article highlights important data from the latest AIHW health report.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education also quotes AIHW data with troubling facts about women’s alcohol use during pregnancy. However, they also offer positive solutions. Most would agree on the importance of clear and accurate information when putting an implementation plan in place to address such problems.

This Partyline issue also calls for a rethink of how abortion services are offered in rural areas. One expert urges federal and state governments to update laws and processes to allow for and compel greater access to abortion care. A PhD candidate also writes on this topic referring to the existing ‘abortion desert’ and throwing light on women’s physical and psychological distress.

Breast cancer and treatment is a critical issue in rural Australia. There is a general pattern of poorer survival rates in rural areas when compared to metropolitan areas, due largely to poor access to treatment. It is inspiring to hear stories from the bush of support in these circumstances.

There is a heartening story about a free exercise and information program for women with breast cancer to regain mobility, flexibility and self-confidence. The story urges not to give up hope when facing a medical ordeal like cancer in a remote setting. We also have stories of walking groups that encourage rural communities to stay active for both physical and mental health.

Another inspiring story tells about bringing birthing services to Weipa for women who’d otherwise have to leave their hometown for delivery, at great financial and psychological cost.

We also hear about a holistic and culturally appropriate mental health screening tool, helping health professionals gain better understanding of a perinatal woman’s context. This type of innovation is needed to address the challenges unique to the rural health system.

There is positive news that Australia is set to become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer due to the combined impact of screening and vaccination. However, all communities have not experienced equal improvement and more needs to be done. The recent introduction of a self-collection option will help address barriers to screening.

Also among the many topics covered, we have stories from the coalface about sexual violence, coercive control and eSafety. And we hear from diverse groups, such as older persons, the LGBTQ community and, not forgetting, support for dads.

We trust that readers will find many relatable stories of trials and tribulation in this issue, as well as steps taken by our community leaders to overcome them. We also hope that it will be an important resource for strategic planning and action to bring healthcare dividends to our rural communities.

Our gratitude to all contributors and advertisers, and to Friends of the Alliance for their continued support.

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