3.1 Women’s health is importantGood health (`complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity'1) is fundamental to women's wellbeing and enjoyment of life. Improving the health and wellbeing of all women will improve the health and wellbeing of families and whole communities, through the caring, nurturing and educative roles that women perform on a daily basis.
Other benefits of improved health for women include greater participation and productivity in paid and unpaid occupations.2 Increased productivity and participation by women is crucial to the Australian economy, given the ageing of the population.3 Access Economics has estimated that an increase in women's participation could increase national output by around $100 billion by 2040.4 As women are the majority of health consumers in Australia, improved health for women would also reduce demand for high cost health services that need to be funded by government.5
3.2 Health inequalitiesLife expectancy for Australian women is one of the highest in the world (83.7 years in 200507).6 However, while the average life expectancy of Australian women continues to rise, significant health inequalities exist between different groups of Australian women. In addition, while Australian women have a higher life expectancy than men (79.0 years in 200507), there are sex and gender differences in the types and prevalence of conditions experienced.7
It is clear that addressing these health inequalities will require new approaches to provide a basis for focussed and coordinated action and to make a real difference. As many of the factors that contribute to poor health are preventable, a new National Women's Health Policy has the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of all Australian women.
1 World Health Organization 1946. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization.
2 Australian Women’s Health Network, Women’s Health: The new national agenda, AWHN Position Paper March 2008, AWHN, Available at: www.awhn.org.au
3 Commonwealth Government Office for Women. 2007 Women in Australia 2007, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra
4 Access Economics. 2006 Meeting Australia’s ageing challenge: the importance of women’s workforce participation. House of Representative Standing Committee on Family and Human Services Inquiry into Balancing Work and Family
5 Australian Women’s Health Network, Women’s Health: The new national agenda, AWHN Position Paper March 2008, AWHN, Available at: www.awhn.org.au
6 ABS. 2008. Deaths, Australia, 2007. ABS, Canberra. Cat no. 3302.0