Informative account of a pioneer

Issue 

Healing Women: A History of Leichhardt Women's Community Health Centre
By Joyce Stevens
Fast Books, Wild & Woolley, 1995. 135 pp., $17.95
Reviewed by Jane Beckmann
Healing Women presents an interesting and informative account of the development of the Leichhardt Women's Community Health Centre. Based on extensive interviews with women involved in the centre over the years and on records, the book provides many different examples to illustrate the rich history of LWCHC. LWCHC's general aim has been to provide a comprehensive, women-centred health service. The centre came into existence in 1974, inspired by the women's liberation movement of that time, which campaigned on a range of issues relevant to women's health. Repeal of the abortion laws and for freely available safe contraception were issues women campaigned on to gain control over their health, bodies and lives. Each chapter in Stevens' book takes up an aspect of the centre's work. These include the foundation of the centre, its policy on a holistic women-centred service, publications and educational work, working as a collective, working with governments and finally opposition and support the centre has experienced. The book also has a useful calendar of main events involving the centre. Working with women suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, the centre discovered that incest and sexual abuse were often the cause of substance abuse. It also exposed the problem of long-term addiction to minor tranquillisers and developed appropriate withdrawal programs. Community outreach led to the centre taking up the health problems of non-English speaking women, which had been given little attention. LWCHC also pioneered work in preventive medicine. These were innovative initiatives at the time and led to opposition among conservative medical circles. Nevertheless, the centre survived this and went on to influence broader health policy. I found the chapter on working with government interesting. Stevens candidly outlines the pitfalls of having to apply for money from governments and explains the achievements of the women's health lobby. She seems to take for granted, however, that this is the natural course for feminist activists. I would have preferred a more radical approach that focused on the need for an organised, campaigning women's movement. Governments should be providing more money for women's health and all health care. Without such a movement, there are real limits to what can be gained. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history and achievements of the women's liberation movement. It is good to see the second wave of feminism being researched and written about.