OPEN LETTER: WOMEN'S RIGHT TO HEALTH IS AT STAKE!
Mr. Legault, women's right to health is at stake
Linda Crevier, President of the Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec (RTRGFQ)
The pandemic, and particularly Omicron, has pushed to its extreme a health system that we have known to be fragile for years. Faced with a network that is cracked on all sides, an in-depth examination is necessary. It is clear that our system will have to be rebuilt differently. To do this, the obstacles to access to health and social services that have long been ignored and that particularly affect women will have to be taken seriously by François Legault's government.
Centralized, privatized and fee-based services, women left behind by the complexity of the network and, above all, confronted with violence committed by health care institutions. The 17 regional tables of women's groups and the Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec are taking up their pencils today to alert the Prime Minister to these obstacles to the right to health. The government must address this issue so that all women can quickly have real access to free, universal, quality and public health and social services throughout the province.
Suffering fuelled by institutions
In the 17 regions of Quebec, women's groups report cases showing that the health network has difficulty taking into account the multidimensional aspect of women. For example, in a mental health resource, a woman reported violence experienced in a conjugal context. She is blamed and told that her health problem could be the cause of the violence. She is reduced to one thing: her mental state. The same is true for a woman who is confronted with grossophobia within the network. Her health issues are most often reduced to her weight. Another woman has her medical situation trivialized because of a prejudice about Black women's greater tolerance for pain. This leads to delays in her diagnosis.
These very real attitudes cause physical and psychological suffering to the women who experience them and affect their access to quality care. Last year, the death of Joyce Echaquan put a face on this pernicious form of violence committed in or by an institution. This institutional violence particularly endangers the health and lives of Indigenous women, many of whom live in socially vulnerable situations, and many other women living at the intersection of oppressions.
Inadequate or denied services to some women is another example of this violence that results in their exclusion from the health and social services system. Some women cannot benefit from services such as mammography because the equipment is not adapted to their disability. Others are denied access to adoption or assisted reproduction because of their disability. Furthermore, the digital shift in the provision of services or in the scheduling of appointments creates an access divide for older women, those with low literacy levels or those living in areas where the internet connection is insufficient.
Finally, within the network, we observe institutional violence against its staff, the majority of whom are women, and in some regions undocumented, refugee, immigrant and racialized women workers, who face untenable working conditions. The historical underfunding of public services has created a network that operates on the basis of overload, underpayment, non-recognition and even exploitation of their work. These women pay the price in health and impoverishment.
Historical gains compromised
These issues experienced by women who turn to the health care system and those who work in it are part of a continuum of gender violence. The gains for women's right to health and equality that resulted from the establishment of the public health and social services system are seriously compromised.
A year ago, when the Legault government released its Action Plan on Women's Health and Well-Being, it declared that women's health was its main concern. Today, we are asking the government if it recognizes the obstacles mentioned and if it is ready to act now in a structural way to eliminate them. It is essential that Quebec have health and social services that are truly accessible to the women who are furthest from them. The right to health is at stake.