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Keynote address for EndoMarch High Tea

25 March 2017

Thank you very much Olivia – and thank you all so much for inviting me here today, to launch the Hobart EndoMarch High Tea for 2017. It is great to support the important work done by Endometriosis Australia and support this world wide event to raise funds for research into Endometriosis. 

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. 

Only a couple of weeks ago I joined with women of all political parties in parliament House in Canberra, to mark International Women’s Day. It was an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made towards gender equality, and to recommit to tackling the challenges still before us.

Australia has a particularly rich history of feminist activism and women’s rights campaigning. 

Whether its women winning the vote, sex discrimination laws, or our first female Prime Minister, there have been significant successes. So in many ways, you know, we as Australian women are remarkably lucky. We are afforded privileges and provided opportunities that many women around the world still do not share.

Unlike our sisters in Somalia and Syria and Pakistan, we are guaranteed access to an education, and to participation in that education without fear of discrimination or persecution. Across the world, by contrast, young women like Malala Yousafzai, brave advocates for every girl’s right to be educated, are subject to violence by those who believe women have no place in the classroom. 

Two thirds of the children who around the world are denied access to schooling are girls. In 2012, 70 million of the world’s women had already been married by eighteen – the age at which young girls here in Australia are for the most part just finishing their formal education, eagerly anticipating their futures in the knowledge that, although the obstacles they face will be far greater than those facing their male counterparts, they can be astronauts and engineers and High Court justices if they choose.

But even women In Australia still face hurdles just because we are women. We haven’t benefitted from Australia’s prosperity in the same way as men. 

The gender pay gap has been stubborn for two decades. Currently, it’s 16 per cent.

That means if you’re a woman working full time, you’ll be paid on average $700,000 less over the course of your work life compared to a man doing a similar job.

If women have a family too, they’ll do the equivalent of an extra $400,000 of unpaid work at home.  That’s more than $1 million in underpaid or unpaid work.

Women only have half the superannuation men have. 

Women are more likely to live below the poverty line. 

And women still don't make up half of the federal Parliament. 

But it is the area of women’s health that I think today is worth really highlighting as where there are indeed a number of key challenges that need to be addressed. 

Women have an enormous impact across the health sector, making up:

• 89 per cent of nurses and midwives

• 39 per cent of medical practitioners

• 39 per cent of dentists

• 50 per cent optometrists

Significantly, more female health practitioners are entering the workforce. 

In 2014, over 53 per cent of medical practitioners in the youngest age group (20 to 34 years) were women.

But while female representation in the health sector is improving, women still face serious challenges in their health care.

Women need to visit their GP an average of seven times a year – twice as often as men. Women are also more likely to visit medical specialists. But at the same time, women are more likely to put off visiting a GP because of cost.

As Australian women we for the most part have access, too, to the information and the services we need to make choices about our reproductive health and our futures, but we must access that information. 

That is in part what today is about, educating ourselves about our sexual and reproductive health. 

Usually, we are easily able to access contraception; we can choose how and when and under what circumstances we want to become parents, and we can do so with dignity and without shame. 

And as women lucky enough to live here in Australia, we have a much greater chance of avoiding, or of surviving, diseases which are responsible for the deaths of millions of less fortunate women worldwide. Our neighbours in Melanesia, women in countries such as Fiji, are amongst those most likely to develop and die from cervical cancer – a disease for which our daughters can now be vaccinated, and which has for a long time been relatively easy to diagnose and to treat here in Australia.

Of course, the advantages we as Australian women enjoy are far from universally accessible. Women around the country are still limited by youth or poverty or geographic isolation in their ability to take ownership of their lives; many still face obstacles that can be or seem insurmountable in their attempts to access the health services they need.

And nowhere is this better illustrated than in the fact that advancements like the development of the pill, the pap smear and the vaccine for cervical cancer, which have allowed Australian women greater agency than ever over their health and their lives, have done little to assist the one in ten women who live with endometriosis. 

One in ten: it sounds like a cliché, but these women really are our friends, our mothers, our sisters – and, for one in ten of us, ourselves.

But despite its prevalence, you’d be forgiven for believing that endometriosis is an uncommon condition. Yet 176 million women worldwide have Endometriosis. 

And I can imagine that those whom it afflicts feel as though our healthcare system has forgotten them. Women with endometriosis typically wait years for a diagnosis, told that the pain they are experiencing is normal, that they are expected simply to carry on without assistance or complaint. 

Meanwhile, Endometriosis Australia reports that the disease costs Australia 7.7 billion dollars every year, with two thirds of these costs a result of decreases in productivity on the part of women living with the condition and the remainder $2.5 billion in health costs.

So I think the message of this year’s EndoMarch, “End the silence”, is a crucial one. Every time we as women speak up about our experiences, about what it is we need to live healthy and fulfilling lives, we make it that little bit easier for the women who will come after us to share their own stories. We make it that little bit easier for women who continue to struggle to access the support and services they need – like those living with endometriosis – to know that they are not alone. 

Indeed I have ot admit, I didn't know a lot about Endometriosis until I had a friend find out she had it. Sometimes it takes that real life example, but whats important is how we respond. Both women and men can be understanding and show empathy. 

I was really please to learn of well know Hollywood faces such as Whoopi Goldberg and Susuan Sarendon who have both suffered with Endometriosis for a long time, speaking out. 

Susan said: "It is not a woman’s lot to suffer, even if we’ve been raised that way, suffering should not define you as a woman. And just because you’re a man it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect you.

It is never easy to raise your voice, it takes courage and commitment. But I know that, no matter the obstacles, brave women like Olivia, and like all of you, will continue to do so. Together, we can End the Silence, end the stigma, and break down every barrier that holds women back.

Let’s have the conversation and push through the challenges we face as women with Endometriosis, because sisters, we are worth it!