House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023



Ms HUTCHESSON (Waite) (15:32): March is a busy month for women. Yesterday it was International Women's Day, but it is becoming clear that the whole week could be renamed 'The Festival of Women' because, let's face it, we deserve it. Every day, women continue to face challenges, facing inequality and facing some who choose to continue to hold us back, but we are strong, we are resilient and we are not going away.

We do, however, have something all of our own that no man can have, and that is a uterus—bear with me. Whilst it homes our unborn babies and keeps them safe, it also reminds us of its existence every month for much of our lives. For some women, they have no issues at all, but for one in nine women, they suffer from the debilitating illness known affectionately as endo.

But there is nothing soft and squishy about endometriosis. I have spoken about it before here, but I will keep speaking about it, keep raising awareness about it, and I stand here right now experiencing the symptoms, so I can. Endometriosis is a common disease where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows outside it, in other parts of the body.

According to Endometriosis Australia, more than 830,000—that is more than 11 per cent of Australian women, girls and those who are gender diverse—suffer from the disease at some point in their life, and it often starts in teenagers. It doesn't discriminate. As a young person, I never had any symptoms. It was not until I had my baby—and I do not blame him—that I got it, but for others they have symptoms all the way until they have a baby, and then they have nothing. It impacts more people than heart disease in the same age bracket.

In 2021, more women had endometriosis than there are Australians living with asthma. For the same age bracket, the number is more than double than for those living with diabetes. Yet more people know about heart disease, diabetes and asthma than about endometriosis. Just to put things in perspective, it takes six years to finally diagnose endometriosis, on average, so it is likely that that number is even higher. So if you notice a woman not looking her normal chipper self, it could be because she is in extreme pain, managing with painkillers or natural remedies, as there is no cure or real treatment.

Work is being done, and I thank Endometriosis Australia and, locally, the Robinson Research Institute and the many other researchers who make this disease a priority. I congratulate the Albanese government, specifically Ged Kearney, who is working hard by providing almost $700,000 to fund new research investigating the impact of endometriosis on fertility.

Previously, Nicolle Flint and the then federal government—yes, they did do something worthwhile—brought in the National Action Plan for Endometriosis in July 2018: $87.19 million was committed for awareness and education, clinical management and care, and research. It has taken a long time for this disease to be recognised, and I am hopeful that girls starting out will benefit from these investments and will not have to suffer in silence like the rest of us.

March is endo month, and the campaign is called March into Yellow—hence my blazer. It is a fun and easy way to open up a conversation about the disease and an opportunity for our community to show support. Today alone, I have had at least five people comment on my blazer, which has allowed me to then discuss the reason for wearing it. The more we can talk about endometriosis, the more people will know about it, and hopefully the work will be done to help my sisters and me.

So in this week, where we think about equality and equity, I thank the minister for sport—I am glad you are here—for drawing my attention to the difference yesterday. Equality is about having access to the same opportunities, but equity is being provided with the necessary tools, specific to the person, to be equal.

I hope that employers across the country think about how they can better support women to be their best. Last night, I joined members of the Finance Sector Union, my old employer and my old union when I worked in banking. They were discussing the impact that menopause and menstruation can have on employees and how best to introduce a framework to support workers in finance. The Finance Sector Union has been working hard to negotiate with employers for specific leave to help women who do suffer in silence.

Some years ago, when I was working from home, the national secretary rang me up—I may have been resting on the couch in extreme pain—and I said to her, 'I'm really sorry; I'm having time out' and she was shocked that I had continued to work and said that she wanted to bring in menstruation leave for all our members. I am glad to say that they are having success. I encourage employers to think about how they can better support their women, as endometriosis impacts productivity, and helping women will help their business.