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Federal cuts to health groups hurt marginalized women, say critics

The recent federal budget cuts will take a toll on the health of women across Canada, say the leaders of a number of women's health organizations who've recently had their funding slashed.

Last Monday, the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (BCCEWH), along with five other Canadian women's health organizations that focus on research and communication around women's health were informed that they will lose their federal funding as of March 31, 2013.

The programs produce research that ensures policy-makers are better able to apply a gender and sex analysis to their work.

Nancy Poole, a director at the BCCEWH says her organization's research helps marginalized women in particular by supporting service providers, policy-makers and health-system planners in developing policies that affect the health of women with substance use problems and women marginalized by poverty or violence.

"One of the biggest contributions that we've made is to really help system planners and government overall bring a gendered lens to all policies and practices within government."

Other programs supporting women's health research and policy development were also impacted by federal cutbacks. On April 13, the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) announced that 100 per cent of their health budget had been cut. A statement by NWAC said that: "Aboriginal women are the least healthy and suffer the greatest chronic health conditions than any other segment of Canadian society," so the decision comes as a shock.

Health Canada told the organization the cuts were made in order to preserve direct services to First Nations people living on reserve and that they wanted to focus more on "community-driven projects," said NWAC'S executive director Claudette Dumont-Smith. She said she doesn't understand the reasoning behind the decision, as more than 70 per cent of Aboriginal women don't live on reserves, nor does she understand why national programs must be cut in order to support those living on reserves.

"This will have a big impact on policy developments at the national level in terms of the health of Aboriginal women," she said. "We are the only organization at the national level that provides a gender-based analysis from the perspective of Aboriginal women.

"The funding we received was minimal in the grand scheme of things. How is $700,000 or $800,000 going to impact the federal deficit? Even if we save or improve the lives of only two women, it's worth it," she said, adding that the organization's preventative work around diseases like diabetes and HIV can save thousands of dollars down the road in terms of health costs.

See a spokesperson from NWAC describe the effect of the cuts further in the video below.

Meghan Murphy is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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