Report on the Second International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women and Health

The Second International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women and Health was held in Edinburgh Scotland, 12-14 July 1999. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) was represented at the Conference by Dianne Temby, who presented a paper on women with disabilities and health. This is a report from Dianne Temby on the Second International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women and Health. Copyright WWDA 1999.

Women from over thirty different countries attended the 2nd International Women’s Health and Research Conference convened in Scotland at the Edinburgh University. English was the language for presenters and there did not appear to be any interpreters. With the exception of the ‘disability’ stream, all other presenters were either health workers or academics. There were only five apparent ‘consumers’ present.

Whilst three of the four keynote speakers addressed in some way policy issues and areas for future discussion and development, in the main most of the presentations were sharings of research with regard to such matters as altered service provision due to funding shortfalls and policy changes. There were many examples of the health workers not being able to provide the level of service their health assessment indicated was needed to meet the clients health/social care requirements. Most of the papers were about unresolved conflict between needs and services available for long-term clients but nobody defined or referred to these people as impaired or disabled. A medical model framework was in behind the whole three days and was not questioned at all. There was no mention of health protection or illness prevention as a new role development for health workers.

Much of the information from Britain and USA was about how tired workers were feeling with the unrelenting stringency and short staffing of their service areas and I was quite distressed to hear that many clients were being re-classified as having ‘personality disorder’ because this classification renders a person ineligible for any Health/Social Security allowances!!! There was no mention or recognition of the complex relationship between social organisation, opportunities, life chances and how these impact upon or influence adaptive behaviours, health and misery.

Some speakers from USA described policy proposals intended to reduce social security spending by placing an ‘end by’ date on eligibility. Other policies were offering incentives to State Governors if they reduced the number of teenage pregnancies AND abortions!!!! Ireland on the other hand is exploring industry linked educational opportunities for people with disabilities to enter preparation for health care practice through formal tertiary forums. It appeared that there is a truly collaborative process involved where the ‘learners’ are fully engaged in all aspects of decision making and evaluation (one of the more positive presentations). An expose of the horrific health problems in Russia was very sobering and very saddening – statistics on perinatal deaths, deformities, increasing incidence of all forms of cancers, reduction in the life expectancy of males, increase in sexually transmitted diseases, poverty and the systematic devaluing and displacing of women from positions of influence – were truly shocking.

Australia was very well represented and overall the presentations tended to be more progressive and forward thinking. It was apparent that humanitarianism and consumer participation were still valued and operative. Most of the Australian material put forward recommendations for further enquiry, research or policy review.

There were many opportunities to meet and network with women of different backgrounds. On reflection I realised that virtually all of the participants were ‘leading’, that is, taking an opportunity to lead out with their voices, to demonstrate their willingness to take risks and to share knowledge with others.

Overall I was saddened by what I heard at the Conference and rather disappointed that there was no forum called to put recommendations for further research, policy goals etc.

I was very excited by the opportunity to meet so many women from so many parts of the world who all had an interest in health for women. It was of great interest to me to see how women transcended cultural, religious, national and economic differences in order to focus on global concerns for women’s health and diseases. I felt privileged to be there and to have a voice for Australian Women With Disabilities.