Home > Publications > International Women’s Day 2013 – Women’s Rights to Healthcare, Not an Easy Battle

Women’s rights to health care, not an easy battle

Health care services provided for women in Iceland offer services beyond what some women could even wish for in other countries, although from time to time one will hear women complain, Iceland fairs pretty well in the world when it comes to women’s rights to health care services.

According to Amnesty International women’s access to health care varies from country to country and in some countries, some health care providers are under constant threat of being beaten, tortured or killed for providing health care services that clash with religious and traditional beliefs, and women who seek these services also face the same dilemma. Living in Iceland it may be hard to believe, that today, in 2013 women around the world still battle for basic health services that many of us do not think twice about accessing.

Iceland is on the forefront of providing equal and universal health care for women, no matter their age, religion, or nationality. As a woman of foreign origin living in Iceland for many years, my experience with the health care system has been very good and was from the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.  Having knowledge of Icelandic, I feel, made my experience possibly less traumatic than it would be for a woman who has little knowledge of the Icelandic language, and no Icelandic partner to help her out.

It was a big shock for me to be given this news a month after coming back from my summer holiday in Singapore with my family. My own immediate family are all in Singapore and I am all alone here, apart from my Icelandic husband and children. I had lots of support from my husband’s family, friends and co-workers. I got support from co-workers who themselves are breast cancer survivors, and they told me what to expect, and how and where to get help if there is something I need. I wouldn’t have known most of the information needed for cancer patients unless I asked my Icelandic friends who were themselves breast cancer survivors.

Foreign women in Iceland are not going in for screenings, be it for mammograms or pap smears, on the same level as Icelandic women. There are many reasons for this, one that comes to mind is the prevention and advocacy we experience here in Iceland, may not be common practice in other countries. Many women do not know this service is available here, and if they do not understand Icelandic, the letter that all women get in the mail reminding them to call for an appointment is thrown away with the loads of other junk mail. Many of our sisters abroad are dying unnecessarily because of this lack of advocacy and prevention. Let’s not let this happen in Iceland to the women who now call Iceland home, just because they are not getting the information needed, or have different cultural ideas about health care and cancer screening. We need to do better in informing and teaching women of foreign origin about the necessity of cancer screening, and about their rights to health care.

With that being said, my position on the board of W.O.M.E.N has given me a platform, as I would like to find a way to help get the word out about screenings and to help other foreign women who are diagnosed with cancer. There are support groups for women who have been diagnosed with cancer, but nothing in English or in any other language. I am not saying it should be standard that information should be available in all languages for women, but the facts are, there are many foreign women living in Iceland who although they are studying Icelandic, just do not have the skills necessary to understand information given to them in Icelandic.

I would like to give thanks to the women’s rights movement of today and the past for ensuring that women living Iceland can feel secure in knowing that we will still have our jobs after coming back from maternity leave or sick leave, and that if we have to do battle with a disease we do not loose all of our income. One less bit of stress for us women to think about, when we are trying to raise our families or recover from an illness. Sadly not too many women of foreign origin realize their rights in the work place and do not realize that they have the right to take time off of work to go for these screenings, or that their labour unions also participate in the cost of screenings.  What may seem like basic knowledge for most Icelandic women is not so basic for foreign women because it may not be common practice in their homeland.

Lastly, on this day my sisters, my hope for the near future is that health care for women will continue to improve and that improvements will be made in the health care industry here that will make Iceland a shining example to the rest of the world in women’s health care.

It has been an honour for myself and for W.O.M.E.N to be invited to join in this celebration. Thank you and congratulations to you all on this International Women’s day!

Nurashima Abdul Rashid