NWCI advocates for the Irish healthcare system to develop policies and deliver services which respond to the needs of women, uphold women’s right to health and reduce health inequity between groups of women.
The Impact of Gender on Health
Gendered divisions in society cause women to experience particular inequalities in accessing healthcare, as well as having specific health concerns, such as reproductive and maternal health, and a higher incidence of negative experiences, including gender-based violence, eating disorders and depression, which affect their wellbeing. To effectively address the health impact of sustained inequality on women, the health system must address the social determinants of women’s health, including women’s caring responsibilities, longer lives with chronic diseases and low incomes. Further health inequalities can be experienced by groups of women, including women with disabilities, Traveller women, women experiencing homelessness, women from minority ethnic communities and older women.
Efforts to improve the health of women and girls have primarily focused on maternal health and reproductive services. Yet, women – who tend to live longer and with more chronic disease – require a broadened remit for women’s health, encompassing not only reproductive health but mental health and chronic diseases, the leading cause of death and disability for women.
We believe that gender inequalities have a powerful impact on mental health and wellbeing. In 2017, NWCI launched "Out of Silence - Women's Mental Health in Ireland" The short film features interviews with women, health professionals, practitioners and researchers. It highlights a number of key themes in order illustrate the gender differences in how women experience mental and emotional health, and the particular policy and practice responses needed to address women’s specific needs.
NWCI's Work on Women's Health
Since 2010, NWCI has been working in partnership with the HSE to bring a clear focus to gender in design and delivery of health services, to incorporate women’s health needs into policy and to address health inequalities between groups of women. NWCI welcomes the objective in the recently published National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-20 to ‘advance the physical and mental health of women and girls’ and the commitment to develop a Women’s Health Action Plan.
Inequity in access to public services exacerbates women’s health inequalities. The higher proportion of women in low/unpaid work and undertaking the majority of unpaid care means women are particularly disadvantaged by the two-tier health service in which those with lower incomes wait longer for services and have worse outcomes. NWCI supports reform to create single tier health system providing universal access for all based on need.
Violence against Women: Our focus on women’s health also incorporates our work to end violence against women, which includes domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, prostitution, trafficking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual harassment. Since its inception, NWCI has a strong track record of work on the issue of violence against women. NWCI raises visibility of the phenomenon of male violence against women, monitors government responses to tackling the issue and campaigns for changes in law and policy in line with Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), which Ireland signed in November 2015.
The Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women is chaired by NWCI. The Observatory, in existence since 2002, is an independent network of grassroots and national organisations monitoring progress on responses to violence against women and lobbying for policy and legislative changes. It provides an important space for organisations to work for improved policies and service provision for prevention and support of women victims of male violence.
Reprodutive Rights: NWCI has long campaigned for reproductive rights in Ireland, with motions being passed by our membership over the last 20 years advocating the right to a safe legal abortion.Orla O’Connor, director of NWCI was co- director of Together for Yes, the national civil society campaign that successfully removed the 8th amendment from the constitution. NWCI will continue to play a key role in raising awareness and calling for full reproductive choice for women in Ireland.
Find out more
NWCI policy paper, The impact of homelessness on women’s Health, April 2018
Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Healthcare, January 2018
Submission to Heads of Domestic Violence Bill, September 2015
Submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy (Heads of) Bill 2013, 2013
Turn off the Red Light – Campaign to introduce legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex
NWCI's health programme is supported by the Health Service Executive.