Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Ensuring Rights: Improving Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Female International Students in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Ensuring Rights: Improving Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Female International Students in Australia

Article excerpt


Drawing on the research and advocacy work being conducted by the Multicultural Centre for Women's Health (MCWH), a national community-based organization in Victoria, Australia, the paper analyzes female international students' experiences with accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services. Accessibility of sexual and reproductive health services is one of a number of areas identified by MCWH in which international students experience unequal treatment. The limitations of international students' mandatory health insurance is of particular concern because it appears to conflict with Australia's human rights obligations to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination and to ensure appropriate services in connection with pregnancy. Given the social, cultural and economic benefits international students bring to the country in which they choose to study, state action on equitable health access for international students is urgently called for.

Keywords: sexual and reproductive health, international students, Australia

Although recent changes to student visa regulations and violent attacks against international students have seen the number of student enrolments decline, Australia continues to be a favoured destination for international students out of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2009 (Australian Human Rights Commission [AHRC], 2011). International education services remain Australia's largest export industry, contributing $16.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2010-11: approximately $15.8 billion (or 97%) can be attributed to onshore students' expenditure on fees, goods and services (Australian Education International, 2011). The success of the industry, as with international education discourses, has always been recognized and discussed in monetary terms, which has led advocates to point out that students are not "cash cows" but are right holders (Chau, 2010; Jakubowicz & Monani, 2010;). Similarly, international students' status as education consumers also obscures the fact that they are, at the same time, deemed "temporary residents"; an immigration status that, compared with permanent residents, further entails fewer entitlements and protections, especially in relation to healthcare. Consequently, international students' health and wellbeing are invisible to policy makers. This invisibility is made evident in recent federal government policy exercises that have failed to acknowledge the inextricable link between improving the international student experience-including maintaining student health-and strengthening the quality of the international education in Australia.

A recent review (Knight, 2011) of the effect of the student visa program on Australia's international education industry made no recommendations for student wellbeing initiatives. Despite receiving 200 submissions, with several submissions highlighting key health and welfare concerns in the international student population, the review sought to recognize the financial benefits of international students to the Australian economy and made recommendations primarily seeking to improve the financial viability of the international education industry. Nor is there any reference to health promotion programs in the Council of Australian Governments International Students Strategy for Australia. The only reference in the Strategy to improving student health is via student safety initiatives, community engagement and "stronger health cover arrangements" (Council of Australian Governments [COAG], 2010).

Literature Review

The health of female international students in Australia has assumed greater significance recently. There is expressed concern about high rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion (Babatsikos & Lamoro, 2012; Healy & Bond, 2006; Kalsi, Do, & Gu, 2007; Shepherd, 2009), as well as discrimination and violence in accommodation settings, educational institutions, relationships and workplaces (Burke, 2010; Deumert, Marginson, Nyland, Ramia & Sawir, 2005; Forbes-Mewett & Nyland, 2007; Graycar, 2010; Nyland, et al. …

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