Women’s rights advocacy group deems women’s access to health services in Quebec inadequate

Feminist groups have identified various barriers to health services for women in the province

On Oct. 19, the Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec hosted an event in front of the Quebec Premier’s office in Montreal to give visibility to their demands for improved women’s health services.

The demonstration is part of the Réseau’s campaign to raise awareness about the obstacles to women’s rights to health in Quebec. The campaign, which took place over the past year, called on the Quebec government to work on making universal and quality public health services accessible to women throughout the province.

Audrey Gosselin Pellerin, a feminist political organizer and member of the Réseau, explained that the group aims to defend women’s rights by advocating for regional women’s groups on the national level. Gosselin Pellerin said that the issues health services face often affect women primarily.

“After decades of neoliberal attacks on the health care system with a pandemic that continues to drag on, we feel that there are real problems of accessibility to healthcare,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “At the end of the day, it is often the women who pay the price.”

Gosselin Pellerin said that the regional tables have identified various barriers that women across Quebec face when trying to access health services. According to the Réseau, in addition to the privatization and pricing of services that affect many Quebecers, women also face difficulties related to the centralization of health services. 

“Centralization is an issue that we see in many of the regions far from the big centers,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “Many women have to travel hours to be treated and have access to specialized care and this has a big impact on their lives.” 

Rebecca Chankowski, an international student at Concordia, has access to an insurance plan by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) but explained that she is still having a hard time accessing healthcare in Quebec and often has to wait to be back home in Europe to get treated for health problems. 

“My biggest problem has been trying to get appointments and being told that it would take six weeks, even for something very urgent,” explained Chankowski.

Chankowski explained that she sees herself as very privileged for having access to RAMQ services, but even accessing it was a long and complicated process.

Gosselin Pellerin explained that, on top of long waiting periods, women often have to face unequal distributions of services.

“What we noticed is that, when hospital administrations have to make choices, when they have to cut somewhere, oftentimes it’s obstetrical and gynecological care that gets cut and that leads to longer wait times for women,” said Gosselin Pellerin.

The Réseau has also identified institutional issues that can lead to women getting the wrong treatment or, in worst-case scenarios, directly mistreated. 

“These attitudes whether it be bias or prejudice really impact women, especially women at the crossroads of oppressions,” Gosselin Pellerin explained.

Mathilde Benignus, who has been living in Quebec for four years, explained that she found the search for a gynecologist or any specialists for that matter in Quebec difficult. Benignus says that most of the generalist doctors she has seen have run into some misunderstandings when it came to treating her. 

“With women or trans people, the doctors I ran into at walk-in clinics didn’t know what to do,” Benignus explained. “If you want to get an HPV vaccine, for example, they just assume right away that you’re a straight woman in a relationship with a cis man or, if not, then they don’t think you need it.”

According to her, conventional medicine for women is not adequate because of a lack of informed doctors and feminist approaches to healthcare. In order to receive the healthcare she needs, Benignus relies on alternative methods of care at feminist healthcare centers. 

“These alternative methods are really present and thank god for it, because they replace what most doctors don’t know,” Benignus said. “Not only is it cheaper but the people there are kind, informed and treat you as a whole person.” 

For the Réseau, the solutions are to reinvest in the public health system, raise the working conditions of health professionals and ensure quality of care without discrimination. 

“We want healthcare to be completely free, public and universal and to extend the coverage to migrants in precarious situations,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “We want women to have a say in how care is organized.”

Photo by: Nelly Dennene/Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec

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