There is a strong correlation between health and gender equity. The 2023 Victorian women’s health survey “Listening to Women’s Voices” showed what will not be a shock to most women – that women’s health complaints are consistently overlooked, underdiagnosed and dismissed.

Women are more likely to be affected by health care issues, including chronic pain and issues with sexual and reproductive health, yet are less likely to receive treatment due to gender bias. Women are experts by experience and most women can think of a time when they were dismissed and misunderstood in a healthcare setting. Chronic pain is one of the largest influences on the gender pain gap. Chronic pain affects a larger percentage of women than men, however women are far less likely to receive treatment, and medical bias often leads to professionals denying the existence of the pain women are experiencing.

The Victorian Government’s “Listening to Women’s Voices” survey showed that 40% of participants live with chronic pain that can debilitate their health and wellbeing, and 30% said that issues such as chronic pain, endometriosis and menopause directly impacted their mental health. Doctors also regularly attributed women’s pain to psychological disorders, with multiple women reporting they had been prescribed anti-depressants when they were actually suffering from issues such as endometriosis. Sexual and reproductive health is also a clear instance of women requiring medical support more than men. Half of survey participants reported that issues related to sexual and reproductive health directly affected their health and wellbeing.  

Historical issues also highly affect women’s access to healthcare. Historically women’s bodies were excluded from medical research, leaving a significant gap of understanding on how women’s bodies work. Sexual and reproductive health issues have also been treated as taboo subjects, especially in education settings, leaving women uneducated on issues that affect them.  

The results are clear, women experience more pain and illness than men, however, receive less medical assistance and are consistently underdiagnosed and misunderstood. Women also receive minimal education on sexual and reproductive health, leaving them in the dark on subjects that directly affect their wellbeing. The survey has made it clear that women want to be heard and understood when they seek medical help, and the current healthcare system is failing them.  

So, what can be done?  

Gender equality must be embedded across our health and education system to ensure that the research, training, funding and delivery of healthcare is fit for purpose, and that primary care practitioners are equipped to understand and treat women’s sexual and reproductive health compassionately and with adequate knowledge. 

The Victorian government has shown continued leadership in this area, opening an Inquiry into Women’s Pain, which will provide recommendations to improve the delivery of care to women and girls across Victoria. Submissions are now open for girls and women to share their insights and experience until 31st July. Women in regional Victoria are especially in need of assistance, with women often needing to travel long distances to get the medical care they require. Changes such as free parking at clinics, access to closer care, and a clear presentation of wait times would make the health care system significantly easier for women in regional areas. The establishment of a mobile women’s health clinic would also heavily improve the access women in regional Victoria have to healthcare specific to their needs.  

At WHGNE, we are keen to see an intersectional lens applied during the inquiry into women’s pain to foster equitable, place-based solutions to improve women’s experiences seeking healthcare.