Wednesday 3 June 2015

Gender and Health

While there are continuing attempts to breech the divides there remains a significant schism between the sciences, including medicine, and the humanities; history, politics, philosophy and literature. Students of gender, however, are most often called upon to work across the disciplines because life is like that. The human condition is complex and even the best, holistic view on any particular subject, will grapple with this multiplicity.

The history of medicine is a fascinating subject in itself, and a body of literature that takes a gender perspective is pertinent. In 2014 the Australian Women’s Health Network hosted a forum, and launched a guide: Making it better: gender transformative health promotion. The presenters Nancy Poole and Lorraine Greaves, from the British Colombia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, drew attention to an emphasis in the Ottowa Charter from the World Health Organisation on the social determinants of health. These are the economic and social conditions, such as access to housing, education and employment, rather than individual risk factors for positive health outcomes. These social and economic factors can be broken down by gender, race/ethnicity and class, and after extensive analysis of health promotion strategies Poole and Greaves found most programs to be gender blind. They have put together a framework for constructing a gender transformative approach to health promotion which is accessible through the above mentioned guide. You can see the forum online.* Furthermore, they launched an online course – Gender equality through health promotion.+


Over recent years Sydney has been treated to a Festival of the Arts in the week leading up to Mother’s Day. Events included an art exhibition, a theatre production, music and variety nights. All feature and reflect on women’s experience of ‘being a mother’ and the associated work of care through the Arts.

The notion of a festival featuring works by and for mamas originated in New York in 2002. The theme has been taken up by Vee Malnar and this year by Joy Roberts among others. Mamapalooza has been supported by Lesley Dimmock’s Tap Gallary in Darlinghurst since its inception in 2006.

A diverse range of women in Rachel Power’s book Divided Heart often grappled with a schism between their lives before having children that included a form of artistic expression and difficulties they faced afterwards. Joy and Vee recognise these tensions but like many featured in Power’s book their work bears testament to a determination to push on through. What it means to be a mother today is different to times past. Women generally have their first child in their early thirties. They bring with them extensive work and life experience, often with a career, having travelled, and at times advanced artistic skills and talents.

Joy Roberts is the producer of MOTHERS a play that showcases women’s stories. The nine characters span the breadth of the maternal demographic: a woman whose dream is to be a mother, a teen who hadn’t planned to be one, a new mum in her 40s, a motherless mother, a soon-to-be grandmother, a different kind of mother, a mourning mum, a struggling immigrant mum and a role-juggling working-mum.

The vast majority of couples aspire to a form of gender equal or egalitarian family today and yet there are significant trends towards traditional roles after the birth of an infant. Our institutional framework isn’t keeping pace with cultural change. Women who maintain a connection with their former lives do so at a cost to their health and to their well-being. There are legendary issues related to identity for women today when they have a child. The Arts play a significant role in this regard. The Arts provide for representation and critique so that we might see and understand better where we are as individuals but also how we might do care better.

Roberts diverse cultural background and relatively recent arrival in Australia sharpens her perspective. She has completed a Master of Arts in Applied Theatre and over the last four years has directed over a dozen short plays and readings on stage. Malnar has turned her hand to various forms of the Arts. She completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts in the 1990s but she has also played in a band and she staged a show called Rock Chikz in Sydney 2005. A collection of her poetry was published in First Breath and in March this year she won Best Production for her play in the Sydney Short & Sweet Festival. She brings with her an enduring interest in mother/female-centric imagery.

The Mamapalooza Festival provides a wonderful opportunity for artists to add new perspective to our continuing discussions about mothers, father and families in the hope that we as a society might appreciate and support them in all their diversity.

Events included: ‘Stolen Moments’ an art exhibition depicting and exploring the themes of identity and motherhood; launch of ‘Nurture Mama’ an education, support & yoga service; a Mama Music night featuring Rebecca Moore and Lisa Schouw (Girl Overboard); a Mama Comedy Night Hosted by Lou Pollard; PLUS! ‘MOTHERS’ – a play about mothers 

Malnar says that “after finding that there were thousands of women in New York who relished the opportunity to reflect on the theme of motherhood, what it meant to be a mother and an artist, I was interested in creating that same excitement here. I’ve met some amazing women who find this festival a great way to celebrate motherhood and express their artistic, political and philosophical ideas on mothering. So apart from having the need to create an artistic niche that unifies and embodies the ideas of motherhood in art, I find myself drawn to helping others who want to do the same.”