The Canadian Women’s Health Network (CWHN), for two decades a major source of critical, independent research and information on women’s health and mental health, has had to stop all its activities and close its doors indefinitely after the Canadian government took away its funding. The announcement came in a CWHN press release just days before one of the co-founders of CWHN, Anne Rochon Ford, accepted an award from Toronto City Council for having a “significant impact on securing equitable treatment for women in Toronto.” The announcement came only weeks after the independent Canadian open-access journal Open Medicine also was forced to shut down. Both blamed declining support for scientific research that does not serve corporate interests.
“Despite efforts made by the CWHN, the support of partners and donors, and some notable successes along the way, the CWHN has not been able to secure sustainable funds to replace the federal funding that was withdrawn in 2013,” stated the CWHN press release. “The CWHN office is closed and the remaining staff members are being laid off.”
The blog Selling Sickness called the closing “sad sad news,” describing CWHN as “one of the pillars of the women’s health movement in North America” that had “participated in important policy debates on major issues of women’s health, provided untold amounts of support and information to individuals and groups, and contributed a reliably independent feminist voice during an era when it has been more and more difficult to sustain independence from deep pocketed corporate systems.” Freely available reports and articles from CWHN included, “Uncharted Territory: Exploring how women’s experiences are documented in psychiatric settings” and “Do psychotropic medications increase disability rates in Canada?”, and MIA Blogger Janet Currie was the most recent co-chair of the CWHN Board. The CWHN press release stated that its website resources will continue to be publicly available for the foreseeable future.
In her acceptance speech for the Constance E. Hamilton Award, Anne Rochon Ford stated that she was “shocked” and “deflated” to reflect on how, after her decades of work, many of the same health and mental health battles are still being fought. “For example, we were able to introduce regulated midwifery in this province – which was a good thing – in the mid 1990s. But today, for the most part, we have more technological intervention in childbirth than we have ever seen, with almost 1/3 of all births occurring by C-section. The woman for whom this award was named, Constance Hamilton, fought hard to secure the right for women to be elected into public office in Toronto. Since her time, we have fought for and made many gains in advancing the status of women in our city, and in this country… but women are taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication at unprecedented rates to cope with the stresses of everyday life. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Canada International about the underlying reasons for the federal government’s decision, Rochon Ford said that in recent years the group’s researchers have been “shut out” of key government consultation processes amidst a general decline in interest from the government in hearing “critical perspectives” on health issues that conflict with commercial interests. “They don’t really want to hear what is being found out. I sense to put it bluntly a lack of respect for research with this government. It’s disturbing.”
Open Medicine also shut down this month. The journal was “born from our refusal to stand behind blatant interference with editorial independence in biomedical publishing,” stated the final editorial in the eight-year-old open access journal. “Such interference is a recurring theme in medical publishing, a fact hinging on the vested interests of medical journal publishers (typically, medical associations and societies, who sometimes find themselves at odds with outspoken editors) and of their advertisers (mainly, pharmaceutical and medical device companies).” The editorial explained the journal’s many challenges in keeping going, and provided a critical analysis of the global state of freely accessible, independent sources of medical information.
CWHN announces suspension of activities due to lack of funds (Canadian Women’s Health Network Press Release, November 21, 2014)
The End of the Canadian Women’s Health Network? (Selling Sickness, November 27, 2014)
2014 Hamilton Awards Recipients (City of Toronto Website)
Respected women’s health organization shuts down, after Canadian government budget cut (Radio Canada International, November 25, 2014)
Closing Open Medicine (Editorial. Open Medicine. Vol 8, No 4. November 3, 2014.)