Development of a new National Women’s Health Policy Consultation Discussion Paper 2009

5.2.2.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Page last updated: 20 April 2009

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience poorer health across almost all health areas compared to non-Indigenous women, particularly in remote areas, and life expectancy at birth is estimated to be 17 years less than for non-Indigenous women.113 Compared to non-Indigenous women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have, for example:

  • higher rates of mental health conditions, and hospitalisation and mortality for those conditions;114, 115
  • hospitalisation as the victims of assault at a rate 33 times higher;116
  • a higher proportion of deaths due to disadvantage, particularly for circulatory diseases, diabetes and kidney diseases;117
  • more than double the rate of cervical cancer between 2000-04 and more than four times the death rate for this cancer;118, 119and
  • higher rates of chlamydia and hepatitis C, particularly in the 15 to 35 age groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.120

Overweight and obesity and tobacco smoking are the most important risk factors contributing to the burden of disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.121 In 200405, 34 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were obese, double the rate of non-Indigenous women, and over half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women reported their level of physical activity as `sedentary' compared to a third of non-Indigenous women.122 In addition, 49 per cent were current daily smokers, more than twice the rate of non-Indigenous women, and 52 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers reported smoking while pregnant compared to 16 per cent of non-Indigenous women.123, 124

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status is not collected for cervical screening, it is known that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women access breast cancer screening less than non-Indigenous women, although rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation have increased over time.125 Participation in the National Bowel Screening Program between 200608 was estimated at 17 per cent of those invited less than half the participation rate for non-Indigenous people (38.6 per cent).126

Social inclusion
The health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a high priority for the Australian Government. Factors which impact on the social inclusion and health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women include: lower levels of education, income and housing security; dispossession; racism; marginalisation; sexual abuse; removal of family members or themselves; and community and family violence.127

The Australian Government is committed to closing the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians by tackling disadvantage and improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments announced initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians worth $4.6 billion across early childhood development, health, housing, economic development and remote service delivery.

The higher level of risk factors, burden of disease, earlier onset and lower survival rates experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women highlights the potential for significant health gains through improved prevention, early detection and treatment.

Section 7.3.2 outlines a Cultural Respect Framework which could assist health policy makers and service providers more effectively address health issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.