First National Women’s Health Roundtable and Reception on Parliament Hill

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by MONA DUPRÉ-OLLINIK

On February 22, 2005, parliamentarians and women's health experts gathered "on the Hill" for the First National Women's Health Roundtable and Reception. Hosted by the Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN), this event recognized the contributions that parliamentarians make to their communities and our country as "health ambassadors."

Almost 50 health advocates, key researchers and representatives from various health professional organizations across Canada, including the CWHN, and the Centres of Excellence for Women's Health joined in Ottawa to share our knowledge and explore how we can support parliamentarians' ongoing work. This was also an opportunity to discuss with key decision makers the importance of women's health to the well-being of our nation.

Women's health issues cross party lines and representatives from all parties in the House of Commons attended, along with several Senators. All clearly demonstrated their commitment to improve the health of girls and women in Canada.

A highlight of the event was a round table discussion exploring women's health issues emerging as priorities for the second half of this decade, 2005-2010, chaired by the Honourable Senator Maria Chaput (Manitoba) and Dr. Abby Lippman, CWHN Co-Chair and Professor of Epidemiology at McGill University.

The speakers included the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of State, Public Health (LIB); the Honourable Senator Lucie Pépin, member of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Senate Committee (LIB); Bonnie Brown, MP (LIB), Chair of the Standing Committee on Health; Nicole Demers, MP (BQ); Anita Neville, MP (LIB), Chair of the Standing Committee for the Status of Women; Jean Crowder, NDP Heath Critic; and Steven Fletcher, Conservative Health Critic. Prepared remarks from the Honourable Liza Frulla, Minister Status of Women (LIB) were also presented.

This round table discussion explored the importance of relationships between Parliamentarians and women's health experts as crucial to keeping informed about issues and to ensure the collaborations necessary to advance a comprehensive women's health agenda.

Speakers noted how the work of women's health experts has helped them "connect the dots" so that issues do not get lost in one department, and so that the health implications of diverse policies are recognized. Almost all recognized the importance of the determinants of health, in particular, gender, poverty, violence, aging, race and culture, for understanding women's health, and acknowledged the need to focus policies around and on these concerns.

Some of the up-and-coming issues that were identified by the speakers included the urgency of creating a regulatory agency for assisted reproductive technologies, ensuring the safety of pharmaceutical products for Canadians, the lack of resources for home care and mental health, as well as Aboriginal women's health needs -- in particular, the importance of training a range of Aboriginal health care professionals. Some of the speakers also addressed the importance of implementing gender-based analysis (GBA) for all policies in all departments.

Many also agreed that there is an urgent need for "evidence-based" decision making in policy decisions, and also stressed the need for "citizen engagement" to help the government ensure that there is a cooperative approach to the issues.

A reception followed the round table discussion and provided the chance for more informal conversations amongst the participants, networking with peers, and in depth discussions with decision makers.

There are hopes and plans to revisit this experience in the following year with the Second National Women's Health Roundtable and Reception, so that we may, once again, bring women's voices to the national health agenda.