Health, safety and wellbeing

Gender is one of the most powerful social determinants of physical and mental health, and all Victorians are affected by gendered health inequalities.

Gender is a core determinant of health

Women experience common mental health disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety at two to three times the rate of men. They also make up over 60% of reported cases of intentional self-harm and attempted suicide in Australia. Many women experience multiple and severe health disadvantages as a result of intersectional discrimination associated with their background, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, where they live and their economic means.

Men are more likely to engage in violent and risk taking behaviours and excess alcohol consumption, placing them at greater risk of harm and injury. They are also more likely to work in dangerous occupations, exposing them to greater risk of injury or death, and are less likely than women to attend a GP consultation. Norms that teach boys and men to be physically and emotionally strong have been linked to higher rates of depression and a reluctance to seek psychological help.

Getting on with it: Capacity Building and Participation Program

The Victorian Government recently established the Capacity Building and Participation Program, providing community grants aimed at strengthening the participation, inclusion and contribution of Victoria’s multicultural communities and building community capacity to respond to family violence.

Lifelong health disadvantage

Gender inequalities place women at a lifelong health disadvantage

Gender inequalities in workforce participation, caring responsibilities and remuneration contribute to poor health outcomes for women. Women’s concentration in low-paid, low-status and often insecure lines of work exposes them to greater stress and vulnerability to serious illness, including heart disease, mental illness and musculoskeletal disorders.

Women also tend to be underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs, treatments and devices in Australia and around the world. This can mean that gender responsive data and research is limited. Accurate and comprehensive data and evidence-based research are critical for effective policy, planning and service delivery for women.

Violence against women

Violence against women is the leading cause of preventable death, disability and illness for women aged between 15 and 44 years

A 2012 study found that Victoria had a higher proportion of women who had experienced multiple incidents of violence during the 12 months prior to the survey, compared to the national average. Women facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and disadvantage are at even greater risk of violence, and encounter greater difficulties in accessing support.

Emergency situations and public spaces

Decisions about how we plan for and respond to emergency situations, and how we design our public spaces, can affect women’s health and wellbeing differently to men’s

Research has shown that gender roles affect how women and men experience and recover from natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and droughts. For example, family violence has been shown to increase during or after natural disasters, and women living in rural areas can become more socially isolated as a result of a natural disaster due to increased workloads and reduced income.

Men and women also experience public spaces in very different ways. Failure to consider these differences can carry major implications for women’s public engagement and participation, their access to spaces and services, and their mobility and freedom of movement. For example, poor lighting or isolated and enclosed public walkways can discourage women from going out alone or after dark. According to a 2016 survey, young Australian women aged 15 to 19 years reported that they feel unsafe in public places, especially after dark, and as a consequence, feel less connected to important public spaces compared to their male peers.

What works: Urban Planning for women’s health, safety and wellbeing in Vienna

A project in Vienna found that women use public transport more often than men and made more trips on foot than men. Whereas men commonly use public transport only to get to and from work, women are more likely to split their time between work and family commitments, and had a much more varied pattern of movement. In recognition of these differences, Vienna installed more lights to make walking at night safer and added ramps at major intersections to make crossing roads easier for people with strollers, using a walker or a wheelchair. In 2008, the United Nations Human Settlements Program included Vienna’s city planning strategy in its registry of best practices in improving the living environment.

Early actions

  • work to prevent family violence through a Statewide Family Violence Action Plan and Primary Prevention Strategy.
  • continue to improve the gynaecological and reproductive health of Victorians by increasing access to best practice prevention, diagnosis, early intervention and treatment services
  • continue to incorporate gender conscious parenting approaches in MCH communications, including app development
  • challenge unrealistic and unhealthy female beauty standards and promote healthy body image
  • develop a Gender Gap App to identify and evaluate gender equity in urban environments
  • partner with and listen to women and girls on their health care and service provision
  • foster networks of support and connectivity for women and girls, particularly those from migrant and refugee backgrounds
  • continue to provide support for women and girls who have experienced female genital mutilation
  • progress implementation of the health sector strategy facilitating cultural change for its employees, by addressing bullying and harassment and ensuring equity and diversity (2016 Our Pathway To Change: Eliminating Bullying and Harassment in Healthcare).