These are the biggest health issues facing women in Leeds - and this is what needs to be done

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A new landmark report analysing wellbeing has been welcomed as a major step forward in empowering women in Leeds to lead “safer, healthier lives”.

Published today to coincide with International Women’s Day, the State of Women’s Health in Leeds report shines new light on the lives of women and girls living in the city.

The State of Women's Health in Leeds report has been published today. Picture: Adobe Stock.

The State of Women's Health in Leeds report has been published today. Picture: Adobe Stock.

The report, commissioned by Women’s Lives Leeds in collaboration with Leeds City Council, has won praise from city leaders who say it could now influence and shape national policy to improve women’s health.

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Key findings

Painting a conflicting picture, the analysis of data reveals a "significant [gender] disparity" with full-time pay, below national average life expectancies and the vast numbers of women who live in Leeds' most-deprived areas.

While it highlights positive ongoing work in Leeds to boost wellbeing, the report also recognises that there are women living in the city in “difficult circumstances”.

In its summary, the report explored population and health data, looking at different aspects of life for women in the city and, in some cases, comparing these to men.

Population data

Examining population data, the report found that of the city's 879,300 population, 438,000 were women.

Some 23 per cent - or 98,500 - live in the most deprived areas of the city, while eight per cent are based in the wealthiest. Women from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to be living in the poorest areas in Leeds.

It also found that life expectancy for women in Leeds "is falling" - and now stands at almost one year below the national average.

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A "significant disparity" in full-time pay also exists, the report said, with the median figure of £24,072 sitting in stark contrast to the £30,315 for men.

Health data

Looking at health data, the report uncovered that dementia was the "single highest recorded reason for women dying".

More than 15,000 in the city had one or more long-term condition and a further 20,000 were classed as "very frail".

Women over 65-years-old also had twice as many emergency admissions because of falling, when compared to men, the report said.

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However, it did find that cardiovascular disease among women has fallen by nearly 30 per cent in the last decade, that fewer women were dying from breast cancer and that cervical cancer screening levels were above average in the city.

What is Women's Lives Leeds?

Report commissioners Women’s Lives Leeds (WLL) was first launched in 2016 as part of the Big Lottery’s Women’s and Girls Initiative, and is made up of 11 women and girls-centred third sector organisations, who have experience of working with and supporting women and girls from some of the most disadvantaged communities in Leeds.

The organisations that make up WLL have specialisms which range from domestic abuse and violence against women and girls to mental health, sexual health, trafficking and substance misuse.

Speaking after the work was published today, a spokeswoman for WLL said: “This is a major step towards our overall vision for the city which is that many more women and girls in Leeds will have their needs met and be empowered to lead safer, healthier lives.”

The report calls for a “gendered approach” to commissioning services for women and girls and argues against a “one size fits all” approach.

Recommendations

The State of Women's Health in Leeds suggests a series of "recommendations" following its findings.

They include:

Mental Health is improved: "Provide further support and funding for resilience and youth work targeted at girls and young women. Develop increased awareness of the link between trauma and mental ill health, by ensuring that all relevant services in the city sign up to the Visible policy statement and good practice checklist.

"Ensure women’s mental health and physical health needs are supported holistically – recognising the significant connection between poor physical health and mental health. Increase support available to women with dementia."

Enhancing women’s quality of life: "Combat the stigma many women experience as they age. Offer greater recognition of the role of female carers. Combat the risk of social isolation and loneliness across the lifespan."

Women are safe: "Ensure a whole city approach is actioned to make Leeds a city where women and girls feel safe.

"Support a greater focus on healthy relationship work in schools. Provide further support and funding for women at risk of domestic violence, bullying, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and sexually exploited women.

"Work with public transport and taxi services to ensure women feel safe travelling both during the day and at night time."

Society is more equal for women: "The public, private and voluntary sectors should recognise and address the impact of austerity on women in Leeds and ensure this is reflected in service and business developments. Businesses / statutory sector should offer and promote greater opportunities and flexible working for women.

"Ensure the Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy has specific women-focused aspects."

Reproductive and maternal health: "Offer greater support and compassion for girls and women with reproductive health issues, such as PMS, dysmenorrhoea, chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis.

"Provide greater provision of services and guidance for women going through the menopause, with a city wide recognition of its implications for women. Ensure everyone has same opportunities for breast feeding, home births and personalised maternity care. Provide greater support for women with perinatal and postnatal physical and emotional health problems."

Women live longer, healthier lives: "Increase bowel, lung, breast and cervical cancer screening rates.

"Work with women’s groups to increase awareness of the need for screening and to make cervical screening more acceptable. Develop female focused lifestyle services. Reduce the number of women having falls."

What have people said in response to the report?

Coun Judith Blake, leader of the council, said: “This report highlights that although there are many positive things happening in Leeds which improve women’s health and overall lives, there are still women who have poor health and live in difficult circumstances.

“This reflects pressures on our communities in a changing world where people are facing austerity and a society not properly aware of the significant health challenges women face. The report provides both evidence and recommendations to help us make women’s lives better.”

Elsewhere, Coun Rebecca Charlwood, the council's Executive Member for health, wellbeing and adults, said: “I am delighted we have produced the first significant analysis of the state of women’s health and what this means for Leeds.

"We will use it across the city to help improve women’s health, and hope it will also be useful beyond Leeds, helping people to understand the need for gender sensitive services for women.”