Case study: Applying a gender equality lens to childbirth & parenting education programs at Northern Health

Northern Health partnered with healthAbility to undertake a gender impact assessment on its existing Childbirth and Parenting Education Program.


In 2017, healthAbility’s (formerly Carrington Health) Baby Makes 3 program invited Northern Health to participate in a co-design project, focusing on gender equality in perinatal services.

This process led to Northern Health reviewing its existing Childbirth & Parenting Education Program (the program) to ensure it was inclusive of all parents and challenged gender roles and expectations related to parenting.


As part of the gender impact assessment, the health service collected a range of data from the program such as childbirth education bookings and program attendance and analysed this data by gender, cultural background and language spoken at home. They also reviewed the format and content of the existing program, correspondence and promotional flyers. Lastly, health service staff were consulted on their understanding and knowledge of gender equality principles and practices.


The gender impact assessment found that information provided about the program was addressed only to the birthing parent, and that there was a lack of inclusivity of diverse family structures. The findings also confirmed staff observations that the program’s approach to pregnancy care was focused on the birthing parent only. This included the assumption that only the birthing parent would require skills to care for a new baby and that the birthing parent would hold responsibility for ensuring a healthy pregnancy.

Additionally, data revealed that there were no childbirth education programs offered in different languages despite Northern Health operating in a culturally diverse area. There were also opportunities identified to improve access for hearing or vision impaired people to be able to attend and participate in the program.

Positively, the assessment also highlighted that the program is most often attended by both the birthing and non-birthing parents, much more than for other antenatal appointments and programs.

As a result of this gender impact assessment, several options and recommendations were proposed, all of which were implemented by Northern Health. The co-design project tools and resources provided by healthAbility supported Northern Health to implement these changes.

The areas of change were to:

  • Amend the introductory letter to ensure it was addressed to both the birthing parent and partner/support person.
  • Create a welcoming environment for all participants in the program based around change in three areas – acknowledgement statements, language, and physical environment. Acknowledgement statements were included at the commencement of sessions with an Acknowledgement of Country and an acknowledgement of the diversity of families. Language guidelines encouraged educators to shift to more inclusive language when addressing parents in the program. An audit was conducted by educators to assess the physical environment to ensure images and program settings did not reinforce rigid gender roles of parenting.
  • Ensure education literature at program classes was inclusive of non-birthing parents and support people. This was guided by a health information audit.
  • Incorporate activities from the Baby Makes 3 ‘Applying a Gender Equality lens to Child Birth Parent Education’ Toolkit into the program.

Next steps

As a result of the positive feedback provided by participants and educators about the changes to the Childbirth and Parenting Education program, other departments of Northern Health such as the Allied Health Service have shown interest in applying a gender lens to their work. The learnings from undertaking the gender impact assessment will also now be utilised to form an assessment of antenatal services beyond the program.