Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence
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Seeds of Change
A Six-Year Review

Cecile Gousseau
and Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence

Our Mission
Our Vision
Our History
Administrative Organization
The PWHCE Research Program
Lessons Learned
Looking Ahead

This publication comes in two parts, the main report which is on this webpage, followed by the details on our Projects and Publications which can be viewed and printed off in PDF format...

Download Full Report (including Projects & Publications) in PDF Format. 519KB

Download PWHCE Projects and Publications only, in PDF Format. 187KB


The Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE) is one of five research centres announced by the federal government as part of a national strategy to address women’s health in 1995. The Centres of Excellence Program for Women’s Health (CEWHP), co-ordinated by the Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis of Health Canada, is dedicated to the development of community-based research and policy advice which will make the health system more aware of, and responsive to, women’s health needs. The Centres focus on the social factors in women’s lives which affect their health.

At the outset, all Centres within the CEWHP were given a five-fold mandate: generating new knowledge, addressing information gaps in current database collections, communication and dissemination of information, network building and strengthening, and policy advice to government and service providers. Each Centre has developed its own structures and priorities to address this mandate. At the PWHCE, emphasis has been placed on innovative approaches to research, including the promotion of partnerships between representatives and researchers in the community and in universities and other institutions, the development of close links to policymakers, and the promotion of community involvement in research (for example, through participatory action research (PAR)).

Our Mission

The mission of the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE) is to improve women’s health through high quality women-centred, action-oriented research and policy analysis. The Centre supports and fosters research designed to increase knowledge of the factors which influence women’s and girls’ health and well-being. Building on this research and analysis, the Centre develops gender-sensitive policy and program recommendations which promote women’s and girls’ health.

Our Vision

Since the initial planning sessions of 1996, the supporters of PWHCE have had a clear vision for the health of women and girls and of the Centre’s role in helping achieve that vision. The text of this vision has had only minor modifications, as a result of strategic planning sessions of the Board in 1999, and again in 2001, and currently reads as follows:

All women and girls will lead healthy lives, empowered with the knowledge and resources necessary to promote personal, family, and community health and wellbeing. Gender-sensitive, health-promoting public policies will help to create a healthier, more equitable society. In achieving this Vision, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence will become an important source of research, analysis, and policy advice on women’s and girls’ health issues. The Centre will be strengthened by the support and active participation of diverse communities of women and girls.

Values statements and Guiding Principles flowing from the Mission and Vision complete the framework for PWHCE.

Our History

How we came to be

The proposal for the PWHCE was developed in 1996 as part of a competitive federal process. A consortium of women’s health advocacy groups in Manitoba and Saskatchewan was instrumental in coordinating a series of planning and visioning processes which shaped the prairie submission. The Centre proposal received approval in 1996, and its operations began in the spring of 1997.

While the PWHCE is supported by numerous community organizations and researchers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it is legally based on a formal partnership among six of its founding members:

  • Fédération provinciale des fransaskoises,
  • Prairie Region Health Promotion Research Centre, University of Saskatchewan
  • University of Regina
  • University of Manitoba
  • University of Winnipeg
  • Women’s Health Clinic (Winnipeg)
From the outset, the PWHCE established three program sites in Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg, with the administrative centre attached to the Winnipeg office. The three program offices are housed and hosted at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina, and the University of Winnipeg, respectively. While additional space requirements for the Winnipeg program and PWHCE administrative office have since necessitated a relocation to leased space offsite, the University of Winnipeg as host institution continues to provide invaluable in-kind contributions of administrative support, accounting support, technical support and program advice.


How We Conduct Our Affairs

PWHCE is governed by a policy board with input from a number of advisory committees. Membership on these governing structures is representative of the Centre’s six signatory partner organizations as well as organizations reflecting a wide range of interests of Saskatchewan and Manitoba women - including the academic, community, and policy sectors. A number of Board positions have also been designated to be filled by rural, aboriginal, northern, senior, and immigrant women.

The Centre has been fortunate in having the same Board Chair for the first six years of its existence, as well as considerable stability in Board membership. This continuity has enabled the Centre to pursue its mandate in a consistent manner, while adapting its processes as required within a known historical context. The Board holds one or two in-person meetings per year, alternating among the three program cities, and meets by teleconference three to four times per year, as needed.

Original Structures
The Centre’s original committee structure was fairly complex and reflected our organization’s developmental stage and the work we wanted to do:

The Executive Committee acted on behalf of the Board in situations where timely action was necessary.

The Program and Directions Standing Committee (PDC) co-ordinated the overall program priorities and directions of the Centre.

The Research Policy Standing Committee (RPC) served as an advisory committee to the Board of Directors on matters related to the goals and priorities of the Centre’s research program.

Theme Advisory Groups (TAGs) were appointed by the Board of Directors to establish and oversee the research and policy advice programs for theme areas across the program continuum. Five TAGs were established initially; these were subsequently merged to the following three:

  • impacts of selected determinants of health on women,
  • effects of health reform on women, and
  • policy and program models to improve women’s health.
The Diversity Ad Hoc Committee’s role was to provide advice to assist the Board in carrying out its value statement of diversity and inclusiveness.

Research Review Teams conducted the review of Stage 2 research project proposals.
Current Structures
In 2001/02, our committee structure has evolved to reflect the Centre’s different developmental stage and its new directions and challenges. While the leadership role of the Executive Committee is ongoing, other committees have been realigned as follows:
The Research Advisory Committee makes recommendations on ongoing and new research.

The Policy Strategy Committee
makes recommendations for ongoing and new policies for government as well as service providers. The Policy Strategy Committee and the Research Advisory Committee are in constant communication, to inform the new program directions of the Centre.

The Sustainability Committee is pursuing alternate funding sources and research models for the Centre beyond the funding commitments of the Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis.

Administrative Organization

Our Staff

The three program offices were established to ensure an ongoing presence at all program sites and to permit the Centre to capitalize on existing expertise in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. At the outset, each program site was staffed with a half-time Program Coordinator, with the full-time Executive Director and Administrative Coordinator based in the administrative office. Program Coordinators had broad responsibilities coordinating communications, supporting research teams, and managing the local office; responsibilities extended beyond their geographic area to the national level, and/or to specific themes within the Centre. The expanding workload at all levels of the organization, combined with uncertainty over the Centre’s long-term sustainability, resulted in considerable staff turnover at both staff and management levels.

Within the three program sites, staff roles gradually evolved to reflect the lessons learned over the past five years and the changing focus over time. Staff responsibilities have recently been realigned to better meet changing needs of the Centre and to match emerging priorities, and to allow a greater inclusion of the diverse skills and expertise of the staff members. We anticipate that this restructuring will make workloads more manageable and focused, and will enhance opportunities for staff skills development

The staffing complement in 2002 consists of:
  • Executive Director (1.0)
  • Administrative Coordinator (1.0)
  • Policy Analyst (1.0)
  • Research Manager (1.0)
  • Program and Community Development Coordinator (0.5), and
  • Administrative Assistant (0.75).

This staffing is supplemented and complemented by contract workers as required for work on specific projects. Over the years PWHCE has developed a network of other associates. Some have joined in specific projects, and continue to take an interest in the work of the Centres.

Others are allies through common issues and collaboration on committees in the community.

Despite the changes, PWHCE enjoys good working relationships with local and provincial governments, ministerial and Federal/Provincial/Territorial advisory groups. PWHCE staff are active in a number of local steering and advisory committees in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina.

The PWHCE Research Program

Funding Women's Research

The philosophical basis of the Centre’s research program is the development of community/academic research partnerships. Within this model, PWHCE supports feminist, community-based research, including participatory action research (PAR) - an approach which allows for development interpretation of research through the lens of women’s life experiences. In addition, we are interested in how all health research can be systematically analyzed for gender and racial inequities.

Funding Mechanisms

PWHCE has provided a range of mechanisms to fund research capacity and knowledge generation since 1997:

Capacity-building workshops: Four workshops were held in 1997 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to discuss community-academic partnerships and to orient new researchers to PWHCE research requirements and processes. These workshops were attended by 124 women in all, including researchers and representatives from women’s groups. PWHCE encouraged the formation of multi-disciplinary teams among participants; 31 Stage 1 proposals were submitted by such workshops, of which six went on to be funded at Stage 2.

Developmental Grants:
Six developmental, or seed grants were funded for Participatory Action Research projects to develop background work, bringing new research teams together to formulate research questions. Of the six (6) developmental grants funded, two (2) went on to receive funding from PWHCE for Stage 2 research proposals, and one went on to receive full funding elsewhere.

Calls for Proposals:
Three separate calls for grant funding were made in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Each call used a 2-stage approval process as discussed above, and reflected one of the research themes established by the Theme Advisory Groups within their broader areas of focus.

PWHCE research projects funded through this grant mechanism have covered far-reaching topics including:

  • Aboriginal women’s health
  • Health reform
  • The health of immigrant women
  • Informal caregivers’ health
  • Lesbian health
  • Literature reviews
  • Low-income women’s health
  • Older women’s health
  • Rural women’s health
  • Women’s mental health
  • Women, violence, and abuse
  • Women-centred health programs & services

Commissioned Research: In the early years, topics for specific, commissioned research were identified within the Theme Advisory Groups; more recently, the Centre Board and staff have defined such projects. Commissioned projects have included such topics as:

  • Health issues for Aboriginal women
  • Gender and health planning
  • Gender-specific program evaluation frameworks
  • Literature reviews on women’s health
  • Models of women-centred care
  • The service needs of pregnant and addicted women (funded by Manitoba Health)
  • Social housing policy
  • The effects of health care privatization.

PWHCE anticipates that commissioned work may remain one of the centre’s preferred research funding mechanism for the future because it provides additional opportunities to focus the research agenda and to build a cohesive body of research.

Research Output
The PWHCE has provided direct support for over 50 policy-oriented research projects since 1997. Every one of these research projects has individually contributed to the growing body of knowledge and evidence on women’s health. Furthermore, this impressive array of research has directly contributed to the Centre’s growing credibility and to the planning and priorities for the years ahead. Following are some highlights of the uptake and impact of a few of the research projects funded by PWHCE. The full listing of PWHCE project publications and uptake can be found in the accompanying PDF file (see bottom of page).

Research Grants

Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Knowledge and Preparation of Health Care Providers to Meet Client Needs
S. Tudiver, L. McClure, T. Heinonen, C. Scurfield and C. Kreklewetz

This study found that health care providers across all professions were largely unprepared to cope directly with issues of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and either avoided the issue altogether or tried to work around perceived problems. The study makes specific recommendations for curricula development, referral networks, policy formulation, and practice guidelines to meet the needs of women survivors. As a result of this study changes have been made to curricula for dentists and doctors in Manitoba. Educational pamphlets have been developed for both providers and CSA survivors as a resource for helping CSA survivors get through medical examinations (available through the PWHCE or online at ).

Prairie Women, Violence and Self-Harm

C. Fillmore, C. A. Dell and The Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba

This study focused on the support and service needs of incarcerated women offenders who injure and harm themselves; an area of health behaviour which has not been well understood or researched. After interviewing women who have a history of self-harm and corrections personnel, a new model for care was developed. This report generated much interest across the country, from advisory groups to the corrections system, and has led to multiple publications. The Elizabeth Fry Society, one of the research partners, have taken on national distribution of the report. PWHCE helped to fund a plain-language brochure with ideas for coping behaviours which was also developed and widely distributed.

Domestic Violence and the Experiences of Rural Women in East central Saskatchewan
D. Martz and D. Saurer

This project gave voice to the difficulty faced by rural women seeking assistance from police and health care workers after they have experienced some form of abuse in the home. Women in rural Saskatchewan were invited to discuss domestic violence in a safe environment and to make recommendations for appropriate care in their local region. The project addressed the benefits of inter-sectoral collaboration and the need to develop policies and protocols for a variety of service providers who interact with women experiencing violence. The report has had tremendous exposure. The Catholic paper Prairie Messenger of the Centre for Rural Studies and Enrichment of St. Peter’s College printed a story on this research project, as did the Western Producer. The report has also received support from the Provincial Association of Transition Houses in Saskatchewan, which posted the report on their web site.

A number of policy developments have emerged from this research. The health district which was a partner to the project discovered that women who have experienced violence were encountering barriers to getting appropriate mental health services, and they have since changed their policies, even before the report was released. As a direct result of the study, there are now new guidelines regarding intake for women who present to the mental health services in the region.

We Did It Together: Low-Income Mothers Working Toward a Healthier Community and Telling it Like it Is: Realities of Parenting in Poverty

Kathryn Green

The purpose of this project was to bring together low-income mothers of preschool-aged children who wanted to learn more about making their community a healthier place to live. Participants identified the factors that typically lead to a woman becoming a low-income parent; often, but not always, it began with her own upbringing. Community factors such as schools’ support for pregnant and parenting students, access to childcare, and levels of social assistance provided to parents of young children without paid employment, can strongly influence whether or not an individual’s circumstances lead her to‘parenting in poverty’.

The report makes recommendations for women’s health policy in the areas of financial support, recognition for and respite from parenting, access to childcare, safe and healthy housing, addictions prevention and treatment, and lessening the stigma associated with being poor. The women went on to write a book, Telling it Like It Is: Realities of Parenting in Poverty, which is a collection of their stories on living in poverty. The book had a successful launch, attended by the mayor of Saskatoon, representatives of the Saskatchewan government, and numerous agencies and individuals. Some of the women went on to present their work to municipal and provincial housing and social authorities.
Commissioned Research

Invisible Women: Gender and Health Planning in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Models for Progress
Tammy Horne, Lissa Donner and Wilfreda Thurston

This commissioned research was initiated to examine the degree to which gender sensitivity and women’s health issues were reflected in the planning processes of new regional health bodies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Eight (8) of (then) 11 regional health authorities in Manitoba and 17 of 32 Saskatchewan health districts participated in the study. The researchers found little evidence of gender-oriented strategies among regional health bodies in either province. This was attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of understanding of the importance and relevance of gender as a determinant of health.

Invisible Women makes 10 recommendations to address specific priority issues and process deficiencies. These touch on the need for resource expertise in gender analysis and women’s health; the need to incorporate gender analysis throughout the whole planning process; the collection and reporting of gender disaggregated data; and the provision of access to educational materials and events to develop skills in gender analysis.

Invisible Women has received extensive attention from the media and policymakers, and the report is widely cited in literature reviews of health planning and health reform. Presentations have been made to multiple groups on the report and its implications. Ministers of Health in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan met with PWHCE to discuss the study’s findings and its practical applications. In addition, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers responsible for the Status of Women subsequently commissioned PWHCE and the research team to conduct a gender-based analysis of Toward a Healthy Future: Second Report on the Health of Canadians and three other key federal documents to determine to what degree women’s health needs and concerns had been addressed by the documents.

Invisible Women, Phase 2
The high level of interest generated by Invisible Women has led to Invisible Women, Phase 2, to develop practical applications of gender-based health planning and programming at the regional level. Development of this project has been a long-term, intense collaborative effort with the governments of both provinces, and has resulted in close working relationships. In addition to the $10,000 PWHCE contribution, Manitoba Health committed $20,000 for this project and the Women’s Secretariat of Saskatchewan contributed $10,000.

  • In Manitoba, PWHCE documented a successful women’s health project to demonstrate an effective example of gender-sensitive health programming: A Rural Women’s Health Program: The Experience of the South Westman RHA (L. Donner).
  • In Saskatchewan, gender-based training has been offered to the health districts to promote gender-sensitive health and gender-specific programming and planning in health services delivery.
  • PWHCE is developing a guide on gender-sensitive health planning to coincide with new guidelines for Manitoba RHAs conducting community needs assessments. Examples of GBA of existing health utilization data highlight the value and breadth of information that can be hidden in gender-neutral data sets. The guide includes checklists and tools for examining barriers for equitable participation from diverse populations of women.

Left In the Cold: Women, Health and The Demise of Social Housing Policies
Darlene Rude and Kathleen Thompson

The relationships among gender, health, income, and other socio-economic factors are explored in the study, in the context of the housing situations of women who have lived in social housing and also women who have rented low-cost housing in the private housing market in the cities of Regina, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The report finds that gender is a variable that appears to be significant in increasing a person’s risk of living in unsuitable housing. Changes in housing policies and programs over recent years have had specific gender effects, particularly for women with children, who report particular difficulties in affording and getting into suitable housing. The current housing system is insensitive to gender-specific housing issues, and there are not adequate processes and mechanisms for women to deal with harassment or abuse by landlords. Key recommendations are made relative to i) health and housing issues; and ii) gender-specific process issues. One of the main messages is the need to address the shortage of adequate and affordable housing for women, particularly women raising young children. As a corollary, a mechanism is required to ensure that basic health and safety rules and regulations are followed in all areas of rental housing, especially in the private housing market.

At the time of writing, the Women’s Secretariat in Saskatchewan is currently acting on the recommendations from Left In The Cold. Social housing policy is under serious review in light of the findings of the study, and follow-up studies are planned.

Evaluating Programs For Women: a Gender-specific Framework (2000 Revised Edition)
Joan McLaren

In 1999, the PWHCE published a report from research commissioned to set out the goals, purposes, approach and principles of a gender-specific framework for evaluating programs for women. The evaluation framework was subsequently pilot-tested in two sites providing services to women - one in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba - and revised accordingly. The framework is based on a set of ten generic steps, each of which has specific considerations to ensure gender-sensitive and woman-centred processes and results.

This gender-specific evaluation model has been used in further studies such as Invisible Women, discussed elsewhere in this report. Health Canada’s Health Promotion and Programs Branch has also reported borrowing heavily from the concepts, approaches, and framework of this model in their own internal work.

A Study Of The Service Needs Of Pregnant Addicted Women In Manitoba
Caroline L. Tait

Manitoba Health commissioned the PWHCE to undertake research on the service needs and experiences of pregnant and addicted women, resulting from a much-publicized human-rights case in Manitoba which went to the Supreme Court. The commissioned report provides a critical analysis of available information and data, and existing effective program models and “best practices”; The writer provides 49 recommendations to revise program and service components to meet identified and quantified needs of pregnant addicted women. PWHCE currently sits on the working group which is addressing the recommendations.

National Projects

Health Reform and Women

The PWHCE has participated extensively in this endeavour. In 1999, as part of the National Coordinating Group on Health Care Reform and Women, PWHCE conducted provincial and regional scans of policies and research related to privatization in health reform and its impacts on women. There have been and continue to be positive outcomes from this national project on health reform:

  • The 8 reports from these studies have recently been compiled and published in a book entitled Exposing Privatization. Two of the eight reports in the book were commissioned by PWHCE.
  • The National Coordinating Group sponsored a national think tank on unpaid caregiving, which brought together policy-makers and researchers to examine unpaid caregiving with a gender lens.
  • The Coordinating Group made a representation to the Kirby Senate Commission, drawing on its work from the previous 3 years on health reform.
  • The National Coordinating Group developed a popular format document entitled Women and Health Care Reform, which was widely distributed across the country. This piece was co-ordinated and co-authored under separate contract by Kay Willson, PWHCE’s Saskatoon Program Coordinator.
  • Multiple presentations have been made on the findings of this policy scan, including one to the Canadian Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada.
  • PWHCE continues to participate in the ongoing work of the National Coordinating Group on Health Care Reform and Women, fostering collaboration and encouraging other health researchers and women’s health organizations to take up the challenge of monitoring the impacts of health reforms on women and women’s responses to health reforms. Kay Willson of the Saskatoon office plays a vital part on the national group.

Research Synthesis Group In May 2000, the PWHCE agreed to take the lead in a national initiative by the Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health Program to review and synthesize research findings in selected key areas from the work to date. This Synthesis Group also serves as an advisory group to the editor of the CEWHP Research Bulletin. Kay Willson, Saskatoon Program Coordinator, chairs the Synthesis Group, and the PWHCE provides administrative support to the group on behalf of all Centres. This national project has been fruitful and demonstrates the value of PWHCE’s extensive resource contribution.

  • A synthesis of current Canadian research on aboriginal women’s health was commissioned by the Research Synthesis Group; this was followed by a national workshop on aboriginal women’s health in March 2001. The project has led to the establishment of a new Aboriginal Women’s Health network of organizations and individuals interested in aboriginal women’s health research. The network is seeking further support from the Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis, and PWHCE is committed to actively providing support to the group as it evolves.
  • A second synthesis work has been commissioned for internal purposes on the works to date by all Centres on sexual and reproductive health. PWHCE has been instrumental in co-ordinating this project.

National Project on the Health Issues for Women Living in Rural and Remote Canada
PWHCE is a partner with the other Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health on a national initiative which will set a research agenda and policy framework for health and health care delivery to Canadian women living outside urban centres. This is especially timely as the health care crisis and researchers projects begin to understand the particular implications for the many Canadians who do not live in a large city. The Centres of Excellence have a vital role to help ensure that women’s health is included in research and policy agendas. The four-phase project includes sample focus groups with women across the country in many, varied rural, remote and northern communities. In January 2003, PWHCE will co-host a National Community Symposium where the results of this initial project will be presented.

Additional partnering opportunities
PWHCE partners with other Centres of Excellence in the development and implementation of research projects with far-reaching implications. For example:

  • The Healthy Balance Research Program is a 5-year program of research funded by the CAHR, bringing together 25 researchers from universities, public policy, health organizations, and community and government partners to investigate the relationships between women’s health and wellbeing, family life, and earning a livelihood. The lead organizations are the Atlantic Centre for Excellence in Women’s Health and the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and PWHCE has been invited to participate.

PWHCE Successes

In 6 short years, PWHCE has had many successes, in terms of research publications and credibility within policy and research circles. Some of the milestones in the Centre’s coming of age are highlighted below:

Our Health In Our Hands Conference
In October 2000, the PWHCE hosted the national conference, Our Health in Our Hands. Over 250 people attended from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and across Canada to share knowledge and experience on women’s health issues. Researchers addressed a variety of topics in women’s health, including women’s occupational health and safety, the health of Aboriginal women, immigrant and refugee women, rural and remote women, health reform in the prairie provinces, and other key issues in women’s health. The focus of the conference was the review and endorsement of the draft Action Plan (discussed below), which was based on current literature and consultations with women across Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Over 200 conference participants participated in workshops to help refine and strengthen the Action Plan.

Action Plan for Women’s Health
In January 2001, the PWHCE Board released the Action Plan for Women’s Health in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Action Plan highlights 12 overriding priorities in women’s health and makes recommendations for change in each of the policy areas. The Action Plan provides direction to government and community policymakers on the factors affecting women’s health and on proposed strategies for change. It refers to actions that can be taken within the health system, while encouraging advocacy in sectors outside the health system related to health determinants.

Endorsements from community organizations were included in the last version of the Plan, and a number of other agencies have publicly endorsed the Action Plan since its release. The Action Plan has been widely distributed to health planning bodies, has received much positive attention, and is already having an impact on public policy.

For example:

  • The Action Plan was presented at the Women’s Secretariat conference in Regina.
  • A request for a presentation was received from the Canadian Federation of University Women (Regina).
  • In Manitoba, the Women’s Health Unit has incorporated the Action Plan into its Women’s Health Strategy.
  • A presentation was made to the Council of Saskatchewan Nurses in Saskatoon.
  • The Action Plan was enclosed in a mailing by a regional office of Health Canada, as a resource document to inform decisions about funding community projects on population health.
  • Articles about the release of the Action Plan were published in both the Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press, regional papers and were picked up by the CBC and several other radio stations.
  • RHAs in Manitoba were encouraged by the Minister of Health to use the Action Plan in helping identify local priorities.
  • Presentations were made at public consultations held by Manitoba Health and the Status of Women to hear about women’s health concerns.
  • The Action Plan was distributed to all participants of the 2000 conference Our Health in Our Hands.
  • The Action Plan was presented by Margaret Haworth-Brockman, Executive Director of PWHCE, at a conference at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, The Lived Environments of Girls and Women: An Interdisciplinary Conference.
  • The Centre has also developed a plain language brochure on the Action Plan, outlining the key priorities and strategies for action.

Presentation to House of Commons and Senate Committees on the Proposed CIHR
In 1999 the PWHCE was invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, and the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology to give testimony regarding proposed legislation to establish the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). The presentation was based on a Working Group proposal, which advocated for the establishment of a Women’s Health Research Institute as well as a systematic program for the integration of sex and gender across the CIHR. The decision was subsequently taken to establish an Institute of Gender and Health as one of thirteen “virtual” institutes. PWHCE has collaborated on research proposals submitted to the Institute and looks forward to receiving positive responses.

Lessons Learned

In establishing itself as a recognized Centre of Excellence over the past six years, the PWHCE set high goals and undertook an inordinate amount of work. Along the way, the Centre has had many successes as highlighted in this review, and has also learned some important lessons which will inform our ongoing operations.

Manageable Workloads
In its 1996 proposal, the PWHCE established an ambitious research program with five theme areas. The workload and coordination requirements were very demanding for the volunteers and staff, and in its 1998 Strategic Planning session, the Board recognized the need to streamline its efforts and focus its resources more narrowly. The 5 themes and 13 strategic goals were collapsed into three main theme areas in a program continuum of: Research, Communication, and Policy Advice.

During strategic planning sessions during 2001-2002 the Centre has refined the focus of the program further, with increased emphasis on policy relevance and uptake.

Internal Evaluation

This process evaluation, completed in 2000, assessed the ground covered by the PWHCE in a few short years. Due to the early stage of the program, the Research agenda was understandably found to be better advanced than Communication or Policy Advice. Major findings and impacts of the internal evaluation were as follows:

  • A need for additional emphasis on policy implications was identified and more emphasis has been placed on these areas in subsequent projects.
  • The internal evaluation noted the heavy demands placed on Board, committee members, and staff by the Centre’s broad objectives, pointing to the need for a focused research program, streamlined committee structures, and manageable priorities. These findings have contributed to the further refinement of priorities and the recent restructuring within the Centre.
  • Board and committee members stressed the fact that success is based in part on relationships and networks, and requested additional opportunities for face-to-face meetings and interaction. This will be facilitated by the streamlined committee structure.
  • The challenge of community-academic partnerships was highlighted, with research teams reporting varying levels of satisfaction with relationships and processes. More information on community-academic partnerships below.
  • Commissioned research projects were found to allow for a greater degree of control over the product and its dissemination. Commissioned research may become the PWHCE’s primary method of research funding.

Mid-Program Review
PWHCE participated in the mid-program review sponsored by the Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis in 2000. The review recognized the extensive progress made by the Centres to date, while pointing to the need for more focused research and to the potential for more coordination of efforts among the Centres on several fronts. The report made general recommendations for action, which, while pertinent to the PWHCE, tended to be national in scope. Recommendations included:

  • Additional efforts to build unity and coordination across Centres.
  • Consolidation around key strategic themes and issues where there is the greatest potential for impact. • Greater cross-Centre sharing of results.
  • A research synthesis mechanism to aid in shaping new research directions and dissemination in the most strategic manner.
  • A focused cross-Centre communication strategy with CWHN playing a major role.
  • Greater national coordination for research dissemination, communications, and policy advice. PWHCE has participated in the successful implementation of many of these recommendations, as discussed throughout this document.

Community-Academic Partnerships: Lessons Learned

In 2001-02, the Centre commissioned a study to obtain feedback and insight on the successes and challenges encountered by the community-academic research partnerships. Input was sought from Board and committee members, individual members of research teams, and staff, through a combination of surveys and telephone interviews. Overall, respondents reported a high across-the board satisfaction with the quality of research output, despite dissatisfaction with such factors as communications within the team. While the value of community-academic research partnerships was recognized, there was considerable variation in satisfaction between community and academic respondents on issues such as PWHCE processes, the report review process, and the clarity of expectations of teams. Key findings and participant recommendations include the following:

  • The major challenge faced was in the formation of effective teams. Most successful teams had joint interests and commitments, and often a history of collaboration; forced partnerships led to fragmented teams.
  • Time and funding for face-to-face meetings are of the essence to shape a project, develop a sense of team, and ensure that all skills are utilized successfully (especially so for geographically dispersed research teams).
  • There is a role for the PWHCE in clarifying team roles and on the broad dissemination of research findings.
  • PWHCE should provide ongoing communication and feedback to participants during the course of a project.
  • A mechanism is required to help align community members residing outside university centres with an academic researcher.
  • Care should be taken to match the size of research grants to the efforts required in applying for said grants.
  • There is a need to create opportunities for networking between researchers / teams, e.g. conferences, casual lunch meetings.
  • Larger grants and multi-year projects were broadly supported to look at broader issues.

The Board and staff of PWHCE are using this valuable information to make policy and practice changes in light of these findings.

Looking Ahead
Future Directions

At the March 12, 2001 meeting, the Board of PWHCE reaffirmed its commitment to long-term sustainability, and passed a motion stating “That the Board is in favour of sustaining the Centre beyond the year 2002 with the same values, similar strategies, commitments, and guiding principles.” Since that time, considerable effort has been expended in considering alternate funding mechanisms and in lobbying the federal government for ongoing core funding of the Centres of Excellence. The PWHCE is delighted with the recent commitment to continuation of the Centres, and looks forward to working collaboratively with the Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis in developing the details of future mandates, funding mechanisms, and terms and conditions.

Later in 2001, the Board of PWHCE approved a new committee structure to better suit its emerging needs. Changes implemented in administrative structure and roles reflect the change from grant funding to commissioned research and the increased focus on national projects, collaboration between Centres, with a heightened emphasis on policy and dissemination.

While seeking opportunities for participation in national or shared research projects with greater depth and wider applicability, we remain committed to identifying and pursuing local gaps in women-centred health research, focusing specifically on these 4 areas in the next few years:

  • Women and poverty
  • The health of women in rural and remote areas
  • Issues of aboriginal women, including a focus on racism
  • Policy implications of research completed on caregiving.

The PWHCE remains committed to having staff and offices in three sites across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and to maintaining its working relationship with researchers and the community sector on the prairies and across Canada.

As the PWHCE adapts to meet future opportunities and challenges, we will build on our strengths and experience. The skills and networks developed over the past 6 years will serve us well in furthering the cause of women-centred health research. We look forward with anticipation to the future before us.

This publication comes in two parts, the main report which is on this webpage, followed by the details on our Projects and Publications which can be viewed and printed off in PDF format...

Download Full Report (including Projects & Publications) in PDF Format. 519KB

Download PWHCE Projects and Publications only, in PDF Format. 187KB

To order a printed copy of this publication, please call our office at (204) 982-6630.


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