Story: Health advocacy and self-help

Page 2. Women’s and men’s health organisations

All images & media in this story

Women’s Health Action

Feminist activists Phillida Bunkle and Sandra Coney started a health advocacy group called Fertility Action (FA) in 1984. For many years they had tried to get the injection-based contraceptive Depo-Provera banned. They argued that women using it experienced serious and unacceptable side-effects.

After FA was formed the group turned its attention to an IUD (inter-uterine device) contraceptive called the Dalkon Shield. Women who used it – in particular those who had never been pregnant – were at high risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition associated with infertility. FA lobbied the Department of Health, and the contraceptive was eventually withdrawn from use.

From 1986 FA campaigned on a wider range of women’s health issues, including cervical-cancer screening, hormone replacement therapy, cosmetic surgery and improved access to medical records.

The group and its founders are best known for a 1987 Metro magazine article about the treatment of cervical cancer patients at National Women’s Hospital in Auckland, which led to a commission of inquiry, overseen by Judge Silvia Cartwright. FA has played a major role in drawing out wider issues, such as the lack of institutional protection for patients.

In 1993 FA changed its name to Women’s Health Action to better reflect its range of activities. In the early 21st century the organisation produced health information, ran an information line and supported health consumers’ rights. It lobbied health officials and advocated institutional changes to the health system.

Women’s Health Information Centre

The Women’s Health Information Centre in Christchurch provided free health information and services to women. It was started as The Health Alternatives for Women (THAW) in 1980 to promote safe contraceptives, support the establishment of Lyndhurst Hospital (which provides abortion services) and lobby for improved patient rights. Its name was changed to the Women’s Health Information Centre in 1999. The centre closed in 2012 after the office was seriously damaged during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

A good bollocking

In 2008 a Wellington street called Old Bullock Road was mistakenly signposted by the city council as ‛Old Bollock Road’ – bollocks being a colloquial word for testicles. The signpost was donated for fundraising purposes to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand, who sold it on Trade Me, the online auction website, for $805.

Endometriosis New Zealand

One in ten women suffer from endometriosis – an inflammatory disease that affects tissue found outside the uterus/womb which is similar to tissue in the uterus. Those with endometriosis experience period pain and pelvic pain and it can also be associated with infertility. Endometriosis New Zealand began in 1985 as a support group for women in Palmerston North with this painful and difficult to diagnose condition. It is now a registered charitable trust that sustains a national support network. This health foundation provides information, offers services and advocates for those with endometriosis, while also continuing to facilitate peer support for girls and women.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition

In 2004 a dozen different breast cancer organisations formed the umbrella organisation Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC). It now includes 32 organisations and is run by breast cancer survivors for those with breast cancer. It provides a variety of forms of information about breast cancer, including web videos, and works with clinicians on issues relating to the management of early breast cancer. BCAC makes submissions to the government, the Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac) and district health boards. In 2008, following lobbying by the BCAC and other organisations, the government decided to fund 12-month Herceptin (transtuzumab) programmes for women with metastatic HER2 positive breast cancer who had previously been entitled to just nine weeks of Pharmac-funded treatment.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand was founded to provide support and information services for men diagnosed with prostate cancer, and educate the wider community about the disease. There are 25 support groups throughout New Zealand. The Foundation organises the Blue September campaign each year to raise awareness about prostate cancer and money to fund their work. It also provides peer support for men diagnosed with prostate cancer and it is a strong advocate for men with prostate cancer having access to information about a variety of treatment options.

Men's Health Trust

The Men's Health Trust charity set up the Men's Health website in 2007. It focuses on a range of men’s health issues, including their mental health. Men’s Health does not provide services, it is an information hub for men’s health rather as THAW was a source of information on women’s health. The goal of the trust is to change how New Zealand men view their health and to make them more aware that they can get effective help as soon as possible.  

How to cite this page:

Rosemary Du Plessis and Anne Scott, 'Health advocacy and self-help - Women’s and men’s health organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

Story by Rosemary Du Plessis and Anne Scott, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 17 Jul 2018