A voice for women's health

Herstory

The Auckland Women’s Health Council (AWHC) held its first formal meeting in July 1988 following a number of informal meetings about women’s health issues that were held in Auckland during the early months of that year. Several of these meetings were held in women’s homes.

A important catalyst was a YWCA Public Affairs meeting held in May 1988 at which Sandra Coney and Lyn Potter spoke to a group of women about a number of women’s health issues, including the implications of the proposed Auckland Area Health Board which was due to form later that year. The focus at this time was on the need to raise the profile of women’s health issues by getting women elected onto Area Health Boards which were being established throughout the country, and supporting them to do this.

As well as changes to the health system, there were other significant event occurring during the 1980s. In dozens of small towns and large cities around the country women’s health centres were being set up. Many of these centres are still in existence today.

In June 1987 Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle's article "An Unfortunate Experiment at National Women's" was published in Metro magazine.

The article resulted in the setting up of a Committee of Inquiry into allegations concerning the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women's Hospital, led by Judge Silvia Cartwright. It subsequently became known as the Cartwright Inquiry.

In July 1988 the Inquiry was over, but Judge Silvia Cartwright’s report was yet to be publicly released. It was an emotionally charged time in the herstory of women’s health, and the events that followed would change the way health services were delivered for all New Zealanders.

Early meetings of the AWHC were held at the YWCA premises in Carlton Gore Road in Grafton, usually on a Saturday afternoon. They were often attended by 40 or 50 women, and included several MPs and a female GP.

Following the public release of the Cartwright Report on 5 August 1988 the AWHC played a significant role in assisting with the establishment of the National Cervical Screening Programme and in monitoring the implementation of many of the other recommendations contained in the Cartwright Report. Two major conferences were held on 5 August 1989 and 1990 to mark the anniversary of the release of the Cartwright Report with the focus of both events being on the progress made in implementing the report’s recommendations.

Ten years later the AWHC was involved in the Gisborne Cervical Screening Inquiry and several Council members travelled to Gisborne to attend several days of the Inquiry, and also attended the public release of the Gisborne Report in April 2001. The Council also played a significant role in monitoring the implementation of the recommendations in Gisborne Cervical Screening Inquiry Report.

Since 1989 AWHC members have held a special ceremony on August 5th each year at the statue of the Spirit of Peace which stands in front of the former National Women’s Hospital to commemorate the anniversary of the release of the Cartwright Report and to remember the women who died as a result of the “unfortunate experiment.”

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