When I turned 40, my husband gave me a first edition copy of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. It is a meaty tome that I dip in and out of often. I read it in a way that is not dissimilar to how many people approach The Secret - asking a question and then ‘letting the book’ open on to a page that will illuminate a truth.
Recently, I and others from the Gender Justice Collective have been working towards launching this petition. It’s to demand that the government allocate $6 million in the 2021 Budget to prioritise the development of a National Women’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy and Action Plan.
I wandered past the bookcase on Thursday afternoon after our weekly Zoom planning call, and thought I’d see what Simone had to say.
What would she say about the factour healthcare system has been designed around male bodies? And what would she think about our continued reliance on data from studies done on men as if they apply to women. Specifically, Caucasian men aged 25-30 who weigh 70kg?
The book opened on this quote:
“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth”. — Simone de Beauvoir.
Oh Simone. How very, very apt. Oh how it resonates. Like a loud clanging bell. Oh how it infuriates. Like a honking fucking car alarm at 3am.
This is highlighted in the Gender Justice Collective’s #YouChoose2020 survey, the first survey of its kind since the outbreak of COVID-19, which revealed the majority of respondents want their government to devote more resources and attention to supporting women’s health and wellbeing.
The survey shows that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on women, wāhine, intersex, trans women and non-binary people’s health and wellbeing.
Only 55 percent of #YouChoose2020 respondents agreed that they can access everything they need to ensure their own health and wellbeing.
The evidence that women are being let down by the health establishment is overwhelming. The symptoms and diseases that affect over half the world’s bodies are being dismissed, disbelieved and ignored.
And, Aotearoa New Zealand is not immune.
Take for example, and not to freak you out, but there is a very limited accredited training scheme for practitioners for inserting an IUD, in NZ.
In a 2019 paper, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal the authors examined why we have a high rate of unplanned pregnancy but a low rate of uptake of long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs).
The authors found three key problems: 1) lack of funding for contraception services in primary care; 2) lack of specific Mirena IUS funding and 3) lack of available training in LARC procedures.
We know that our primary caregivers are doing their best in a fraught system - but surely, this indicates a sizable problem in our access to contraception?
Then there is the fact that 90 percent of the health and care workforces - frontline workers during the pandemic - have been women. And yet, ironically, the service delivery and funding model penalises women compared to men and costs them more over their life course.
Second sex, anyone? Or trans women or intersex or non-binary?
Take for example the reluctance of successive governments to fund the HPV self-testing. Bev Lawton, director of Te Tātai Hauora o Hine, and her team are conducting research to make screening for cervical cancer more accessible and equitable.
Screening for human papillomaviruses (HPV) can effectively detect many of the high-risk strains of the virus associated with cervical cancer. Existing evidence shows a test that can be self-administered can help reduce the barriers that result in inequity for Māori women in the screening programme.
If New Zealand adopts universal HPV self-testing, it will be the first programme in a high-income country to offer the self-test as the main screening test.
Switching New Zealand’s cervical screening programme to HPV testing has the potential to reduce the incidence of cervical cancers by 15 percent annually compared with the current programme.
Let’s just do it! Oh that’s right, at present, there is no overarching strategy or action plan focused on the health differences between women and men and between different groups of women and girls within our population.
There are no formal analyses of health needs and healthcare quality from a gender perspective that have been carried out or commissioned by the New Zealand government.
Currently, the quality of health care for women, wāhine, intersex, trans women and non-binary people’s depends on where they live, how much money they have and what colour they are.
Racism, poverty, prejudice, discrimination, ignorance, lack of appropriate training, failure to listen and engage with the community are just some of the reasons for this fact. So, too is a lack of political will.
What about maternal health? Anyone who has had a baby will be able to tell you the system needs some serious intervention — especially when New Zealand’s rate of maternal suicide is 7x that of the UK.
Or the fact that 11 percent of women aged 25-33 reported unfilled prescriptions due to cost, in the New Zealand Health Survey 2018/19 (that’s more than 3x what men of the same age reported).
Or that Māori women face inequitable rates of cervical cancer. They are more than twice as likely as non-Māori women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease.
Pacific women were the most likely to be admitted to New Zealand intensive care units and high dependency units because of life-threatening complications during pregnancy at a rate of 10.4 per 1,000 deliveries, compared with 4.6 for New Zealand European women. The rate for Māori women was 5.6, for Indian women 7.2 and for other Asian women 8.2.
Or that there is no study been done on the health needs of intersex people.
I can’t help but wonder that if these issues affected the default - men - and if they described it from their own point of view, it would be considered the truth and more action would be taken.
The strategy and action plan the Gender Justice Collective and others within the health sector want to see produced is intersectional, based on a Hauora framework, and takes a comprehensive approach to improving the health outcomes between women and men and between different groups of women and girls within our population across the course of their lives.
The $6 million we are asking for equates to $2.60 per woman in Aotearoa. Surely we are worth this?
There is an assumption that because Aotearoa New Zealand was the first in the world to ‘give’ women the vote, that we have a female prime minister and a lady governor general and lady judges and apparently one of the highest number of women’s groups in the world per capita, we have ticked the box on gender equity - but that is simply not true.
We are falling behind our obligations to The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and we are failing women and girls.
While there is a serious gender data gap, the facts and stats we do have are overwhelming showing that girls, women, wāhine, intersex, trans women and non-binary people need a dedicated approach to ensuring their health needs are understood, met and respected.
There are individuals and organisations working incredibly hard in this space. But the reality is that female bodies are simply not afforded the same level of medical attention as male bodies are. We need to change this now.
We can’t wait any longer for action. Our lives depend on it.
So, this International Women’s Day, for sure eat those croissants at the empowerment breakfasts and down the champers at the inspirational talks but please, take action, help save the lives of girls, women, wāhine, intersex, trans women and non-binary people.
Sign the petition by clicking here.
Let's be the 3am car horn in the government’s ear.