Menopause, mental health, and sexual violence highlighted during Women’s Health Week

Background of green foliage. Photo of a blackboard which says 'Women's Health Week Events, Everyday 11am-1pm.'

Danielle Gavanescu, Master of Public Health student and former PHAA Intern

Women’s Health Week 2022, run from 5-11 September, is the biggest week in Australia dedicated to the health of women, girls, and gender diverse people.

The campaign run by Jean Hailes features many events and online activities designed to promote health and wellbeing, with each weekday dedicated to a specific topic.


National Changes to Cervical Screening

Women’s Health Week 2022 kicks off with a day dedicated to health checks. New changes implemented to the National Cervical Screening Program from 1 July 2022  allow all eligible people aged 25-74 to choose to have a Cervical Screening Test either by themselves, or through their healthcare provider.

Both options, according to the Department of Health and Aged Care, are:

  • “free under Medicare – so if your healthcare provider bulk bills for consultations, the whole thing is free
  • “accessed through a healthcare provider
  • “accurate and safe ways to collect a sample for a Cervical Screening Test”

The PHAA supported the introduction of “self-collection” when it was announced in late 2021, with robust evidence suggesting that self-collection will increase screening uptake.

Women’s Health Week continued with Menopause Matters on Tuesday promoting discussions around menopause and perimenopause, including treatment options. Midweek, the focus turned to pelvic floor health and pelvic pain.

The second half of the week places the spotlight on mental wellbeing and brain health, coinciding with R U OK? Day on Thursday 8 September. The event wraps up on Friday by highlighting the benefits of physical activity including advice on how to make movement part of your daily routine.


New report on the prevalence of sexual violence in Australia

Women’s Health Week comes just a week after a new report from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS). The report revealed that women in Australia experience sexual violence at a much higher prevalence than previously thought.

Led by University of Newcastle-based researchers, the report used data from Australia’s Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.

The lifetime prevalence of experiencing sexual violence was found to be over half of women between 20 and 29 years old, over a third between 40 and 49 years old, and over a quarter who were aged between 68 and 73.

While the alarming figures were significantly higher than previous data, concerns remain around under-reporting of experiences.

The authors stated that “the prevalence of sexual violence during childhood was 12 to 15 per cent of women, depending on the age cohort.”

When referring to these differences, they stated that they could be related to “generational differences in understanding, personal feelings about disclosing sexual violence, and the time since the violence occurred.”


Data collection and differing definitions of sexual violence

Distinct differences in prevalence were noted between generations, suggesting a need to better understand the drivers of these differences, to improve the accuracy of prevalence data across the life course.

The report also highlighted the need for a broad, consistent definition of sexual violence. In an ABC interview, ANROWS chief executive Padma Raman explained that there were problems associated with data collection due to the definitions of sexual violence and sexual assault varying across jurisdictions.


Sexual violence and health behaviours

The report found an association between experiences of sexual violence and current tobacco use, high-risk alcohol consumption, illicit drug use, and decreased levels of physical activity among women in their twenties and forties.

The report noted that “Women aged 68 to 73 in 2019 to 2020 were slightly less likely to have had a mammogram or cervical cancer screening in the previous two years if they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Conversely, women aged 24 to 30 in 2019 were slightly more likely to have had cervical cancer screening in the previous two years if they had experienced sexual violence.”

“Regardless of age or generation, women who had experienced sexual violence reported worse physical and mental health than women who had never experienced sexual violence. This included poorer general health and increased risk of chronic conditions, sexually transmitted infections, anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.”


Calls for a life course approach

The report called for service providers to “employ a life course approach when delivering services to women who have experienced sexual violence.” The authors noted that these women “were more likely to experience violent acts in adulthood.”

Recommendations made by the report include subsidised or free health and support services for women who have experienced sexual violence, as they had “higher average annual costs for non-referred health services … than women who had not experienced sexual violence.”  The relationship between health outcomes and sexual violence cannot and should not be ignored, and reducing any barriers, including financial barriers, to accessing health services may prove beneficial for this population.


Find more information about ways to get involved with Women’s Health Week.


Image: Courtesy of Danielle Gavanescu

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