Victoria

National women's anti-violence group loses funding, could close

A national organisation that supports women's health and anti-violence agenda has lost federal government funding and could close in the next year unless a new funding source is found.

National Women's Health Network is scrambling to find a new funding partner after it was told its application for a new round of funding from the Department of Health and Ageing was unsuccessful.

Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, says AWHN is needed urgently.
Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, says AWHN is needed urgently.  Photo: Emma Morgan

There are now fears that dozens of women's health and anti-violence organisations across the country will be unable to advance their causes on a national level any more.

The organisation will use its small cash reserves to fund its CEO and administration staff until the end of next year, but beyond that, its future is unclear.

Kelly Bannister, the network's chief executive, said the decision was a "big blow" to the network, which acts as an umbrella for dozens for women's health and anti-violence groups across the country, including Women's Health Victoria and Gippsland Women's Health.

"We are faced with the knowledge that without additional ongoing secretariat funding our operational capacity will be severely restricted," she said.

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The decision by the government not to renew the network's funding at the time there is increasing government focus on addressing family violence against women and providing more support to victims.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said she was "very disappointed and surprised" by the decision, adding that the network needs to continue its "important work".

"AWHN is only the organisation currently representing women's health and wellbeing on the national stage. There is no other body with membership from across the women's health and other sectors across Australia," Ms McCormack said.

"We need to keep pressure on governments, federal and state to ensure that the current attention on family violence is maintained and reflected in appropriate resources for this woefully under-resourced sector."

She added that the network does valuable work in sexual and reproductive health, "which will receive even less attention if the organisation is lost".

Helen Riseborough, chief executive of Women's Health in the North, said women's health services needed government support now more than ever.

"Given just what's happening, and the gains we've been making, this sort of decision is not a wise thing to do, just when we're making some gains in women's health."

Ms Riseborough said the network gets the community engaged in conversation and taking action to make Australian women healthier and safer.

"They do a lot of effective work and it doesn't really cost the public purse a hell of a lot.

"It punches above its weight."

The Department of Health and Ageing has funded AWHN for the past three and a half years. Prior to that, the network staff worked as volunteers on an ad hoc basis.

Health Minister Sussan Ley launched AWHN's 'The Women's Health Hub', a national clearing house for women's health information, in June.

AWHN runs the only national women's health conference in Australia, which is next due in 2017.