Finding our Voice: A message from the CWHN Coordinating Committee

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Women in all parts of Canada have worked long and hard to weave together the many strands of a women's health movement. For more than 20 years, groups such as Healthsharing have strengthened the visions of a nation-wide women's health network. We pay tribute to the accomplishments of those women who came before us, and to their struggles, hopes and dreams.

For decades, women have organized local, provincial and national groups to fill critical gaps in health services for women and to lobby for such services. Together we have developed creative models of health promotion and service delivery in community-based settings and even inside the walls of more traditional health institutions and universities. We have formed coalitions to address emerging health issues. We have published resources in many languages. We have served as consultants. We have become "watchdogs" over the policies and practices of government and industry.

Women have pioneered the organization of self-help groups, supports and other alternative models of care. Recent research now acknowledges what women have known for a long time: social support plays a key role in health and healing.

Women have always understood that poverty, stress and other social conditions affect health. We know that just being born female brings health risks. Those of us who are First Nations and Aboriginal women, women of colour, immigrant and refugee women, women with disabilities, and lesbians, have shown how poverty, racism, discrimination, violence against women and poor treatment by the medical system affect women's health. We have influenced governments to acknowledge the "social determinants of health" in their policies.

The time has come to design health and wellness services that meet women's needs. Severe cutbacks in government spending, the dismantling and privatization of health and social services, and attacks on the right to universal health care pose considerable threats to our well-being and to our families. There is deepening poverty and unemployment in most communities, while taxation policies, transnational corporations and financial institutions continue to consolidate wealth. How do we ensure that the diversity of women's voices are heard in this environment? How do we continue to work together for change?

Networking can help us sharpen our understanding about the changes needed to improve women's health and health services in Canada, and to influence policies and planning. One of the challenges to the Network is to ensure that alternative, woman-centred approaches become "mainstream" public policies rather than "marginal" projects.

The Centres of Excellence for Women's Health program, recently funded by Health Canada, offers a unique and exciting opportunity for community-based women's health groups, health service providers and academic researchers to work together on women's health research and policy in new ways and across boundaries that often divide us.

Strong, lasting partnerships require open, effective communications. As part of its activities, the CWHN will facilitate the sharing of information and resources, encourage critical debate, and assist groups and individuals interested in researching particular issues to find others with related interests. We must maintain the independence and integrity of the women's health movement through such collaborations. We welcome the challenge.

The CWHN is about overcoming isolation and working together to transform fears and frustrations into creative action. Networking is a huge task in Canada, with its vast geographic distances and linguistic, cultural and other diversities.

Finding "our voice" for the newsletter and for the Network won't happen all at once, given our rich diversity. But recognizing and exploring our diversity is also the path to weaving strong links and finding common ground.

As the Beijing Conference showed, we are part of a global women's movement. The Canadian Women's Health Network belongs to us all and must be nurtured if it is to grow and be strong.

We invite you to share your suggestions, articles, ideas, stories, resources, updates, alerts, feedback, questions, and comments. Tell us what you think about this newsletter. Get involved in CWHN activities. Contact us at:

CWHN Network, 2nd Floor-419 Graham Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3C 0M3
Phone: (204) 947-2422, ext. 134
Fax: (204) 943-3844

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