Alex 'Galileo' Proudfoot

Alex Proudfoot is a civil servant based in Canberra. In 1991-92 he launched a challenge under sex discrimination legislation concerning the lack of gender specific Men's Health Centres in view of the presence of so many Women's Health Centres. His claim was not upheld, and in fact was apparently viewed with some contempt by those in power. The Human Rights Commission rejected his argument, and in its judgement claimed that there was no need for Men's Health Centres, and stated that women were clearly in need of such services due to their specific health needs and their history of disadvantage. The provision of Women's Health Centres was seen as discriminatory, but not unlawful, as sex discrimination legislation allowed for the provision of special services for women where such action is seen as counteracting continuing discrimination.

However, it is clear that while women have been discriminated against in many arenas of economic and social life, they are not, and have not, been discriminated against in the provision of health care. On the contrary, women are the main users of non-gender specific health services, and have better health outcomes than men on almost all measures. The challenge mounted by Dr Proudfoot was reported in the media, but with an implication that this was an oddity brought about by an eccentric man, rather than a serious issue which required consider-ation of how health resources are allocated, and to whom.

If the Human Rights Commission had bothered to check widely available Government data, it would have discovered that there is, in fact, a great need for gender specific health services to address the clear health inequities suffered by men. Some of the widely available facts that could have been considered by this Commission are noted below.

Physical health:

  • Men die earlier than women: on average, 6.4 years earlier. Analysis shows that this is not due to differences in biology.
  • In every age group, men & boys have a higher mortality level than women and girls.
  • Men have a higher incidence of cancer in all major cancers which are not gender specific.
  • Men have a far higher incidence of heart disease, and at younger ages.
  • Men are more likely to be injured or to die in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Work related deaths are nine times higher in men than in women.

Psychological and social health:

  • Men are more likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs
  • Male circumcision, which can be seen as a form of sexual assault, was performed on male infants by paid health professionals over 6000 times during the year 1985, in NSW alone. (Unecessary surgery on female genitalia is, quite correctly, illegal).
  • Despite the valid concerns over domestic violence, preoccupation with this issue has obscured the fact that most serious assaults are done to men, and that the majority of murder victims are men.
  • The vast majority of people in prison are men, and the majority of these are there for non-violent or victimless crimes. Many of these prisoners have a low level of literacy, and a history of being raised in dysfunctional families.
  • Men have a higher rate of mental health problems. 82% of suicides are male. There are 14% more males than females in psychiatric institutions.

Some disturbing additional facts:

  • There is virtually no emphasis, and no research, on early detection of prostate cancer. In 1994 in Australia, $1.4 million has been allocated to research and screening for breast cancer, which occurs in about 1 in every 13 women. Prostate cancer, a roughly equivalent male disease affecting 1 in every 16 males, was allocated $130,000. Recently, the Federal Government allocated an extra $6 million dollars to screening and treatment of breast cancer. Nothing was allocated to prostate cancer.
  • Despite the apparent health difficulties encountered by men, they are less likely to make use of health services, or of alternative therapists. Men use Medicare services 30% less than women.

So, what is being done about these distressing figures? Basically, nothing. The 1988 Health For All Australians Report noted:

"Men in Australia die from nearly all non-sex specific leading causes at much higher rates than do women, although women consult doctors more frequently for all causes except injury. These differences in health status largely reflect the prevalence of preventable factors" (my italics).

Yet, despite its own findings, the Report made no recommendations in regard to men's health, while it supported the formulation of a National Women's Health Policy. Neither of the major political parties in Australia have a policy on men's health, although this may change in the future, as Carmen Lawrence, the newly appointed Health Minister, clearly acknowledged the problem of men's health in a recent interview.

And finally ...

Back to Alex Proudfoot. After the failure of his initial case, Dr Proudfoot obtained information pertaining to his case which seemed to show blatant sexism from the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Quentin Bryce. This was in the form of a memo concerning Dr Proudfoot's case on which Ms Bryce had written "another example of a male wasting our time with trivia". To no-one's surprise, Ms Bryce was cleared of charges of discrimination over the matter. Meanwhile, Dr Proudfoot and others maintain their concern with the trivia of men's health.

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