This edition of Alliance celebrates International Women’s Day. In this issue, women from the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre alliance contribute stories that champion women, discuss leadership and gender parity and analyse issues, such as unpaid care, that fall, for the most part, into the laps of women.
From a health perspective, Australian women are privileged among all women in the world. Three in five Australian females rate their health as excellent or very good. Access to housing, education, income safety nets, parental and disability support has improved over time. For most cancers, Australia’s 5-year net survival is among the highest in the world. However, the risk for Australian females being diagnosed with cancer before their 85th birthday is 1 in 2. The most common diagnoses in females are breast cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma of the skin, and lung cancer (AIHW 2018).
Over the past twelve months, we have been able to gather important real-life intelligence across the alliance, to understand the demand on health services that COVID-19 has presented. Despite the challenges we have faced, opportunities have arisen to learn from each other and identify new ways to collaborate and innovate to better serve women and families who experience cancer.
Challenge the status quo
For many women, this optimism may be tempered by the glacial moves in the cultural status-quo. Power imbalances in the workplace remain, and progress does not mean parity. The shocking incidence of sexual abuse and assault of older women in aged care and the epidemic proportions of domestic violence laid bare by the pandemic warrant urgent attention. We know that gender bias comes in both explicit and subtler forms. And as we look beyond our shores into the Asia-Pacific, expectations for equity that we petition, fall off the continental shelf for women in our region.
As our VCCC alliance undertakes the next stage of government-sponsored development 2021-2024, the need for equity and parity remain clear in our vision.
Small changes won’t be enough
The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is Choose to Challenge. This theme implores us to take stock and adjust our responses, using all that we have learned to take meaningful action.
Right now, our top priority is to respond to cancer diagnoses that were delayed or missed during the past twelve months. There is urgent work to build clinical trials capacity, enable personalised cancer care, unleash the potential of better data linkage, progress and test novel therapies and foster the leadership and communication skills needed by researchers to state their case in commercial environments.
This is not easy work. In recent months, people from all walks of life and experience have contributed to the VCCC strategic program planning. We are grateful for this wide and considered engagement and know that our work is enriched by such thoughtful input. The culmination of many months of debate has led to the establishment of key steering groups – diverse, passionate, informed individuals whose recommendations will allow us together, to drive progress in cancer research, clinical care and education. Please get to know these people, they are our powerful advocates and I am delighted to welcome them to our team.
There is no question that over the past 12 months, the women of the VCCC have worked like never before. We know the enormous contributions that women in our network have made - with loved ones needing practical assistance and emotional support, children at our feet, and a pandemic in our face. As we acknowledge International Women’s Day in 2021, it is certain we need this step change. Let us ‘Choose to Challenge’.
Prof Linda Kristjanson AO