York centre holds conference on women’s health

Women’s health was the topic of a recent two-day conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. York”s National Network on Environments and Women”s Health (NNEWH) – one of the country”s four federal centres of excellence in women”s health – held the event, whose key theme was differences in health care created by gender.

“York University has played a strong leadership role in bringing women to the event from 28 far flung communities in Canada, such as Mary’s Harbour in Labrador, Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and Creston in remote British Columbia,” said executive coordinator and York co-investigator Prof. Marilou McPhedran.

The women met face-to-face with leading rural health researchers and policy makers from local, provincial and federal agencies in order to develop strategies for improving health care in their communities.

NNEWH received a research grant of over $300,000 from Health Canada for the event, which was entitled “Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me: Rural and Remote Women Speak up on Health Reform Priorities”. The event was part of NNEWH’s National Study on Rural, Remote and Northern Women’s Health in Canada.

In 2001, York co-investigators McPhedran (right) and Suzanne MacDonald (below, left), associate vice-president (research), received the grant to enable NNEWH to take the lead in managing focus groups in many different regions of the country, through a network anchored by the four centres of excellence. Major research findings were presented on at the meeting on March 17.

Farmwomen, Inuit, First Nations and Métis women, fisherwomen, and some of Canada”s top researchers on rural women’s health issues engaged in an intense exploration of their concerns and solutions for improving women’s health at the two-day meeting. participants brought their expertise and experience to debate priorities for future research and action on government policies.

“Many of our focus group facilitators are researchers connected at the local level and as a result, we had input from women who are true ”experts” because they actually live in the rural and remote areas often left out of the national health reform debate; we are convinced that they are vital to designing timely, cost-effective changes to our health care system,” said McPhedran.

“In addition to their biological differences, women and men have different life circumstances and although Roy Romanow [who headed the federal government’s Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada] recognized that access to services is a major problem for people living in rural and remote areas,” said McPhedran, “he didn”t have much to say about other factors, such as income, housing, social support and safety from violence, that are important to keeping a good state of health for women and their families.”

Researchers have found that women living in rural, remote and northern Canada have poorer health status and greater difficulty accessing appropriate health services. The NNEWH focus groups revealed that a broad range of diversity is found between and within women living in these widely varied communities, said McPhedran.