Calls from the federal opposition and health advocates to improve access to pelvic pain services and support have been overshadowed by outrage over the use of gender-inclusive language by the ABC to broadcast the urgent plea.
The national broadcaster sparked the outrage with the omission of one word in its report on a review by the Australian Coalition of Endometriosis (ACE) that mapped the impact of the debilitating condition across Australia and revealed major inequities in access to care.
Its reporting refers to “more than 50,000 people with endometriosis” who revealed the shortfalls of service provision for a condition that affects “around one in nine Australian and people assigned female at birth”.
The public quickly became fixated on the ABC’s use of gender-inclusive language, instead of referring to endometriosis and pelvic pain patients as “women” with many expressing their dismay on Twitter.
Australian media personality Sall Grover simply wrote: “WOMEN. JFC.”
“Oh come on (ABC) – it’s not ‘people with endometriosis’ – the word you are missing here is WOMEN,” another woman wrote.
“I thought endo was a condition affecting women. Thank you for enlightening me. I had no idea men could get it. Thank god our national broadcaster is here to enlighten us,” someone else wrote, adding a sarcastic clown emoji to the tweet.
But others were quick to point out that endometriosis was not as “sex specific” as those slamming the ABC believed, sharing medical research that stated endometriosis is a “rare source of abdominal pain” in men, too.
However, cases are “extremely rare” – with about 16 cases of men with the condition reported in medical literature.
Endometriosis occurs when uterine-like cells appear on or around pelvic organs – often on ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder or intestines – to cause excruciating, debilitating pain, especially around menstruation and during sex.
In the cases in men, endometriosis was commonly on the patients’ bladder, lower abdominal wall, and inguinal region, according to a 2018 paper.
If left untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility, scarring and serious health complications; yet, despite its pronounced symptoms, it takes several years to get a diagnosis and receive treatment.
Social media personality Leonardo Puglisi wrote those outraged by the ABC’s language can “believe it or not” that men can get endometriosis – “this is something you can easily Google” – and asked whether the term “people” no longer includes “women”.
Crikey News editor Gina Rushton also backed the inclusive language, leading the returning criticism at those “having a sook” about the ABC’s reporting and missing the point of the story.
“As someone who spent last night curled up in debilitating pain it is so cool to see people having a sook about inclusive language rather than the contents of this story,” she wrote.
Australian author, cartoonist, and fellow endometriosis patient, joined the condemnation, not mincing her words in writing “as a woman who lived with endo for 20+ years I invite you to GFY”.
A number of other comments pointed out the absurdity of critics focusing on the language switch rather than “caring about those who have endometriosis” and the revelations of the inequity of access to services and support for their pain.
“I cannot believe the replies here all focus on the use of the word people,” one wrote.
“I also didn’t know men could get endometriosis so I’ve learnt something new tonight. This is a good call to expand the clinics as far as I‘m concerned.”
Another woman with the condition wrote: “All these commenters triggered by the word ‘people’ couldn’t give a stuff about people with endo (a condition also suffered by children, trans men, intersex people and occasionally men).
“I’m a woman with endo and we need more services. Stop derailing our much needed conversion.”
Other users thanked the ABC for using inclusive language, writing they hoped it would “help raise awareness so that others can get it checked out if need be.”
The ABC did not respond to news.com.au’s request to comment on the backlash.
The ACE review revealed there were major gaps across Australia around education and treatment access for the one in nine women who deal with endometriosis, as well as the one in five that deal with pelvic pain.
Chair of ACE Jessica Taylor told the ABC the review’s results show a need for a “national approach”, given the huge differences between care across and within states and territories.
“This is why we need a national approach, there are national programs that are run out of states and territories but we need to extend them even more,” she said.
The federal opposition has called on the Albanese government to expand its trial of 20 endometriosis and pelvic pain treatment clinics – which was already an increase on the 16 clinics Labor and the Coalition promised during the 2022 election – after the report’s findings.
“I‘m questioning the decision-making process about where these clinics were located, opposition spokeswoman for health told the ABC.
Labor’s Assistant Minister Health Ged Kearney, who is responsible for women’s health, said the government is evaluating where to put more clinics, telling the ABC in a statement women “deserve to have their concerns be taken seriously with better access to specialised care”.