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Women’s health is fundamental to our community health

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For Canadians, February 12 marks Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Day and for many, it’s also the International Day of Women’s Health; a time to raise awareness and promote resources that help to improve women’s health and subsequently, our overall community health.

The topic of sexual health can be an uncomfortable one, which is why today is so important; it’s about initiating conversation and opening up the channels for better communication and education. We know that sexual health starts with high quality sex education. When people have the information they need, they can live their best and healthiest life.

And that means creating safe and positive space for discussion on topics like contraception, sexually transmitted illnesses and pregnancy but it also means tackling broader cultural and societal issues like diversity, gender identity, consent, discrimination and gender-based violence, especially with our youth.

Knowledge is power and it’s clear that sex education is a powerful tool in creating a more just and equal society. We know that access to health care is impacted by gender, age, race and sexual orientation. Discrimination in health care is deadly, which is why the fight for equality in health care matters.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about women’s health have only been exacerbated. The health care sector – along with other caring sectors, which are historically female-dominated – have been among the hardest hit. When there isn’t enough PPE or paid sick leave this disproportionately affects women, and more specifically women of colour working on the front lines.

Most often, it is women who care for elderly parents and relatives when they’re ill and for children when they’re home from school. They are the engine of our society and without women our economy would crumble. That’s why women’s health is so fundamental to our community health.

During lockdown, we’ve also seen a disturbing rise in domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. The pandemic has placed an undue burden on women’s health and mental health, and it’s our duty to bring these issues out of the shadows, because women’s lives depend on it.

So today, let’s shine a spotlight on the importance of women’s health and embrace those tough conversations about sexual and reproductive health too. Let’s work to break down the barriers that women face so we can build a better – and healthier – society.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Dianne Clarabut, Chair, Provincial Women’s Committee