We are at a unique moment in our history for women’s wellbeing and gender equity.

Victorian Women’s Health Services are calling upon all parties at this November’s Victorian state election to take action on key pillars of policy. From our position in Victoria as health promoters, primary prevention practitioners and specialists in intersectional equity, these vital points of action will ensure all Victorians can reap the rewards of an equitable society and economy.

Support us as we call on the Victorian Government to prioritise public health, gender equality and wellbeing in this year’s state budget.

Regionally, we’ve been encouraging participatory democracy, with initiatives like the Hearing Benambra community consultation. Specific to the Victorian Women’s Health Services’ joint campaign, we wanted to find out where our local candidates stand on the policy points articulated by the Victorian women’s health sector, so we sent out a survey and put together the responses we received in a candidate scorecard:

The Victorian Women’s Health and Wellbeing Election Scorecard

You can read about what we asked candidates and why in more detail below.

We call on all candidates to support the following key actions:

Sustain, embed and expand the Gender Equality Act

The Gender Equality Act 2020 (‘GE Act’) is transformational for the Victorian economy and community, requiring that all Victorian public sector, local councils and universities take positive action towards achieving workplace gender equality.

Since its implementation, it has seen public entities begin to embed policy, programs and services to improve the status of women in workplaces and communities, redress intersectional disadvantage, stigma and stereotyping and enhance women’s social and economic participation.

WHGNE and the Victorian Women’s Health Services urge all candidates to ensure this vital work continues so that all Victorians receive the benefits of a gender equitable community and economy.

WHGNE and the Victorian Women’s Health Services call on candidates to support:

This is required to ensure that the skills and knowledge are available in the short-, medium- and long-term to sustain intersectional equity.

Provide the opportunity for Victorian-based organisations to align their work to the requirements and principles in the Act and be recognised for doing so. Continue to use the Act as the basis of encouraging gender equality across the Victorian economy and community through procurement policy and funding

This can be done by sharing, communicating and distributing information about gender equitable budgeting policy and practice. This should include building capacity and capability across the Victorian Government on Gender Equitable Budgeting and Gender Impact Assessment, and, sustaining funding to the Gender Responsive Budgeting Unit.

This will enable their ongoing work in support of the Act.

This will support smaller, rural and remote public sector entities to meet the GE Act requirements, recognising the specific challenges these entities face.

Make healthcare inclusive and equitable for all

We can never assume that our health services and policies are equitable or, that they are accessible to all. If we have learnt anything from the pandemic, it is that our health system supports our community most effectively when it recognises the intersecting reality of disadvantage and discrimination.

By learning and growing from the lessons of the pandemic our health system can address the barriers to access, inequity in service design and provision. From our perspective and experience we do not have a health system that enables gender equity in our community. We need to continue to invest in primary prevention and health promotion – without it our community gets sicker, and hospitals feel more strain. Health promotion and primary prevention with an intersectional lens prevent crisis, save lives and keep Victorian women healthy.

WHGNE and the Victorian Women’s Health Services call on candidates to support:

So that our system is designed to understand and practice intersectional equity.  We can do this by developing the public health workforce to understand and implement gender impact assessments to address health inequity.

This will include resourcing strategies to increase access to contraception and abortion services as well as trialling innovative pilots such as telehealth and nurse-led models

Require all hospitals in receipt of public funds to provide Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTOP) or Surgical Termination of Pregnancy (STOP) and all faith-based hospitals in receipt of public funds to provide evidence-based information and referral pathways to abortion service.

Ensure all reforms to Victoria’s mental health system reflect the evidence on the gendered nature of mental health, including the disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality in women.

This includes ensuring that the infrastructure and workforce is resourced to apply an intersectional lens to all services and programs.

Continue to sustainably fund the Women’s Health Services infrastructure, a vital part of Victoria’s public health system and expand the services by including specific health promotion and primary prevention health service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and LGBTIQ+ people.

Specialist Family Violence Services in the north east

While Women’s Health Goulburn North East focuses on the prevention of gender-based violence, it’s clear that we need to improve access to legal services for victim-survivors in our region.

WHGNE calls on candidates to support:

Victoria’s royal commission into family violence made a priority call for victims and perpetrators in rural and regional communities to be given better access to support and services.

However, north-east Victoria still does not have a specialist family violence court, with the nearest facility in Shepparton, a two-hour drive from the region’s largest population centre.

This poses a significant barrier to services and support for local victim-survivors of family violence.

The need for a specialist court and Legal Aid services becomes particularly clear when considering family violence data for this region. Crime Statistics Agency data consistently shows a high incidence of family safety and violence issues in Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

We call upon all candidates to support the establishment of a Specialist Family Violence Court with Legal Aid services in north-east Victoria.

Prevention of Violence against Women

Addressing violence against women requires changing our attitudes that allow or condone violence, and shifting cultural and work practices to proactively support gender equality. This universal work needs to be grounded in every home, club and office.

Women’s Health Goulburn North East support and endorse the call to action on primary prevention of family violence as articulated by our colleagues at Safe and Equal.

WHGNE and the Victorian Women’s Health Services call on candidates to support Safe and Equal’s Key Asks:

As community awareness around the dynamics and impacts of family violence increases and responses are embedded across an expansive system, demand for specialist services has skyrocketed and support needs have become more complex.  

Investment into these services has not increased commensurately.  

Specialist services need more funding, for longer terms, in order to deliver safe, effective, high quality supports to all people experiencing family violence.  

Primary prevention and family violence response are highly specialised professions and there aren’t enough skilled and qualified people to deliver on Victoria’s ambitious vision of ending family violence.

Building a sustainable workforce requires concerted efforts not only to attract and train up new workers, but also to improve working conditions, expand development opportunities and strengthen career pathways to reduce turnover and maintain a healthy workforce.

Homelessness and family violence are inextricably linked, with family violence the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia.  

Victoria’s commitment to prioritising victim survivors in the development of new social housing has been welcome. Yet specialist services continue to be forced to accommodate people escaping family violence – at their most heightened risk – in unsuitable motels, and the unmet need for long term housing is continuing to grow.

We need a housing guarantee for victim-survivors and an immediate increase to the capacity of Victoria’s stretched specialist family violence accommodation system while continuing to expand social housing stock.  

More people are accessing family violence support in Victoria than ever before. One size does not fit all, and we need to tailor inclusive services based on people’s experiences, life stage and the barriers they might face to seeking safety and support.  

Despite incredible and welcome reform and investment during the past six years, significant gaps in service responses persist. 

We need to ensure all victim survivors can access the support they need, when and where they need it.

Ending family violence and violence against women requires an enduring approach to challenging the deeply entrenched social norms, attitudes and behaviours that drive it. Doing this effectively means taking coordinated action across all settings and levels of society at once, and recognising that measurable change will take time.