Push for Progress at Armidale Women’s Event

Equality and accessibility of health care for rural women were strong themes of an early HealthWISE International Women’s Day event held at Armidale City Bowling Club on Monday, March 4.

Around 120 women gathered to hear from keynote speaker and Minister for Women Jodie Harrison along with panel members, HealthWISE Inverell First Nations Support Coordinator Tiffany Johnston and Armidale Secondary College student and climate activist Josie O’Baoill. Guyra local Stephanie Cameron emceed the event.

The local non profit partnered with the Zonta Club of Armidale, Guyra Evening Country Women’s Association and Carers NSW to bring the event to Armidale, with support from the New South Wales Government Office for Women.

Minister Harrison celebrated the progress the government has made towards gender parity in the legislative assembly and legislative council, but acknowledged that there was more work to be done.

“International Women’s Day is also a day of action. It’s a day where we talk about how we’re going to work towards gender equality in all aspects of our lives,” she said.

On the day’s theme ‘Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress’, Ms Harrison said investing in women “is not just a smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do”.

She discussed sobering figures on the gender pay gap in NSW, with women still earning, on average, 11.8% less than men.

Ms Harrison also pointed to further inequalities in health, with women spending 25% longer in poor health than men while also carrying a higher cost burden.

“Women suffer poorer health outcomes than men do, which is why it’s so important that organisations like HealthWISE is here today to help you consider the kinds of issues that you need to be checking for and how to better support your own health,” she said.

City centric thinking, long public waiting lists for paediatric specialists, educating younger community members around domestic violence and the barriers rural communities face were key concerns for panel members Tiffany Johnston and Josie O’Baoill, along with audience members during the question and answer session.

Drawing on personal experience of her mother’s breast cancer treatment in the height of the pandemic, Ms Johnston expressed a desire to see genetic testing more readily available in rural areas and accessible to those in the public system within a reasonable timeframe.

“I really feel like those things need to be put in place because our daughters shouldn’t have to suffer the way our great grandmothers’ suffered,” she said.

I really feel like those things need to be put in place because our daughters shouldn't have to suffer the way our great grandmothers’ suffered.

Miss O’Baoill wanted to see a wider range of rural and regional voices – not just those with the funds to spend on a plane ticket to the city.

“I think that inclusivity and activism and advocacy are intrinsically linked. In order to build an inclusive society, you need to have activists from all different backgrounds,” she said.

Ms Johnston said HealthWISE is committed to health equity, which prioritises treatment and care based on need, recognising the social determinants of health such as housing, education and employment.

She advocated for flexibility in health funding that allows providers to “deliver a service in a location that makes people comfortable, with enough time to ask what matters to you rather than what is the matter with you.”

...deliver a service in a location that makes people comfortable, with enough time to ask what matters to you rather than what is the matter with you.

Miss O’Baoill said many young people are passionate about political change, such as the members of national group School Strike 4 Climate.

“Young people really care and young people are really willing to put in the hard yards to make change happen.”

Minister Harrison launched a book following the 30-year history of the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering on the day, and announced that the next gathering will be held in the Hilltops region of Harden on October 19.

Member for New England Barnaby Joyce, Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall, and Armidale Regional Council mayor Sam Coupland were all in attendance.

International Women’s Day is held on March 8 and NSW Women’s Week runs from March 4 to March 11.

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