The path towards excellent sexual and reproductive health

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It’s sometimes said that the best laid plans can often go wrong but more optimistically, a plan is often a map that marks out where we have come from and where it is we need to go. How we travel along the various paths is, more often than not, key to reaching the destination.

The recent release of Victoria’s first ever sexual and reproductive health strategy and priority action plan is an excellent example of just how far we’ve travelled in relation to women’s health. The narrow thinking that it is simply or only about what affects breasts, wombs and vaginas has gradually given way to an understanding that access to sexual and reproductive health services is a fundamental right for all women.

In Australia, ‘all women’ now includes more than 75% of Australians who identified with an ancestry other than Australian. The needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can no longer be seen as marginal. In this context, Victoria’s action plan has recognised that improving access to reproductive choice also includes addressing systemic barriers. In the case of immigrant women, such as international students and other temporary migrants, systemic barriers like visa status can be a critical risk factor when it comes to women’s health.

The issue of international students’ access to pregnancy-related to care is something we’ve been advocating for several years now and the Victorian strategy now has an explicit plan of action: ‘to advocate to the Commonwealth to ensure that international students have access to reproductive health services immediately upon their arrival in Australia through private health insurance.’

This is one good sign of just how far we’ve come. The action plan also provides an outline for supporting women through increased prevention strategies and the implementation of peer support models such as bilingual educators. And as far as best laid plans go, the devil will be in the detail: we now need to ensure that the map provided for us in Victoria will allow us to further travel along the path to excellent sexual and reproductive health for all immigrant and refugee women, in ways that are appropriate, meaningful and respectful.