Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Why Is Men's Health and Well-Being Policy Not Implemented in Australia?

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Why Is Men's Health and Well-Being Policy Not Implemented in Australia?

Article excerpt

In Australia during the 1990s there was considerable public discourse about men's health and well-being. Generally this discourse has constructed men as a single category and described men's health as problematic. The Australian Commonwealth Government and some states responded to the discourse of men and their health by beginning men's health and well-being policy processes. Despite significant policy writing activity there has been very limited government program development or budget allocation. In other words policy implementation has been modest. This paper explores reasons for Australian governments' inability to implement men's health and well-being policies relatively systematically.

Key Words: men's health, men's health policy, Australian governments

There has been remarkably little discussion in the Australian men's health literature about policy and related program development, or about appropriate political action that would generate programs for populations of men. This is an important issue to address because, in recent years, epidemiologists have produced vast quantities of data that suggest that in many ways, men's health outcomes (e.g., morbidity, injury and death) are significantly poorer than women's (Mathers, 1996; National Health Strategy [NHS], 1992). However, such data do not explain why the differences exist, nor do they explain what can be done, if anything, to improve men's health outcomes through public policy. Some men and women who support men's health initiatives have studied the data but so far have not created the policies that would lead to comprehensive and publicly directed interventions for the betterment of men's health. If there is a compelling case for men's health, why do policy endeavours falter prior to implementation?

This paper discusses the impediments to Australian men's health and well-being policies being implemented. This is useful because it is important to know what the difficulties are in moving from policy formulation to policy implementation when arguing for men and their health, especially in relation to the activities of the state. For those who believe that men's health and well-being requires state intervention, astute strategising and an understanding of the complex and changing policy climate are required.

In the following discussion it is accepted that men's health is significantly socially constructed, meaning that masculine values and practices, as well as men's location in social structures and environments, influence their health outcomes. The expectation is that men in Australia, for example, do not cry. Dominant discourses and practices suggest men are rational, separate individuals who are tough and competitive and exercise "power over" (Smith, 1996; West, 1996). Men embody these values, but also construct social environments conducive to them (workplaces, sporting arenas, workplaces, etc.). In this paper it is also proposed that men as a sex/gender have no legitimate claims on the state for special or additional men's health and well-being programs. State interventions ought to be targeted only toward men who have the poorest health outcomes, who are in the lowest one or two quintiles of the male population measured by income, education, and occupational prestige (NHS, 1992). Yet if the health and well-being of those who experience poor health outcomes is to improve, men generally will need to come to understand the dynamics of the social conditions that cause men, especially poor men, to have poor health, and will have to act to change some masculine values and practices that are implicated in poor health outcomes. Also if men's health policies and programs are to be successful, there need to be widespread government initiated processes of consultation.

MEN'S HEALTH POLICY IN AUSTRALIA

In Australia, there are four broad issues that, at least until now, have precluded the movement of coherent, bureaucratically processed policies into accepted government policy with clearly established budgets and broad political legitimacy. …

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