18 June 2018

I rise today to support the motion and to speak about a disease that, as we've heard this morning, affects one in 10 Australian women, yet receives less medical attention than erectile dysfunction.

I congratulate the member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, the member for Forrest, Nola Marino, and the member for Boothby, Nicolle Flint, for their hard work on shining a light on a disease which has caused millions of women to suffer in silence. Without their advocacy, I'm pretty sure we would not have the first National Action Plan for Endometriosis. However, I find it horrendous that a disease as debilitating as endometriosis requires parliamentarians to demand that the medical community believe the women who present with these symptoms and treat them with respect and dignity.

Endometriosis has been, historically, under recognised by doctors, and has never been properly prioritised as worthy of research or effective management, and, consequently, has been
under diagnosed and poorly treated, causing much pain and anguish for so many women. There are around the same number of diabetes and asthma sufferers as there are endometriosis sufferers.

Yet, in 2016, the National Health and Medical Research Council allocated more than $14 million to asthma research, $64 million to diabetes research and less than $900,000 to endometriosis research, which is why I believe it's important to acknowledge that endometriosis is a gendered disease. It's a women's disease.

For far too long, women with endometriosis have had their symptoms and pain delegitimised by the medical profession. Too often they are told, 'You're just being hysterical,' or that they are hypochondriacs, that the pain will soon settle down, that all women get period pain, that it can't be that bad or, as my young friend Rachel, who suffers badly with this condition, is constantly told by doctors, family and friends, 'Just have a baby; that'll fix it.' Let's be clear: having a baby is not a medical treatment. Rachel is a young, professional woman. She has her own life's plan—a plan that has been hampered by a debilitating condition. Telling a young woman to just have a baby borders on contempt.

Endometriosis causes excruciating pain and can lead to infertility. We've heard through the media of Jessica Panetta, a young woman who suffers from endometriosis and recently described the pain as 'like barbed wires are being pulled through my ribs'. Instances of the medical professional not taking women's pain seriously aren't just anecdotal; they are backed up by evidence.

The University of Pennsylvania found that women are less likely to receive pain medication in emergency centres than men, and, when they do get it, they have to wait longer for it. Why is it that we treat men's pain quickly and effectively, yet when women tell us they're in pain we tell them to calm down?

The cruel irony of endometriosis is that early diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. The average wait time, as we've heard in this chamber this morning, is seven to 10 years. While one in 10 women in Australia wait for diagnosis and treatments, the excruciating pain of endometriosis can take over. Women miss work and school. Their relationships can suffer. They suffer through missed diagnoses and operations. They can even lose complete control of their lives and any plan that they might've had for their future. And they can often lose hope; that is the greatest loss of all.

But women around Australia are saying, 'Enough is enough'. They are angry about the years of inaction, and fantastic women like the members for Forrest, Boothby and Canberra have listened.
They have heard and they are taking much-needed action. This is what we are in this House for: to make legislative changes that make people's lives better, that give them hope, that clear the way for a future.

Endometriosis tells us that while we prioritise men's lives and bodies over those of our women many will continue to suffer through pain and medical inaction. As a registered nurse and a woman, I have personally seen and experienced the indignity of being told—and heard talk of—that female conditions are just 'women's problems'. I am pleased to support a motion that, for endometriosis sufferers, means that change is indeed ahead.