The SWC exists to ensure that women’s voices are heard at all levels of policy and decision making. In spring 2018 the organisation undertook a programme of work on women’s health. The SWC focused on a range of issues such as breast screening, cancer detection, treatment and support; cervical screening, cancer detection, treatment and support; transvaginal mesh implants, thyroid problems and mental health, as well as any other pressing areas of concern raised by women.
The aim of this piece of work was to build a comprehensive overview of women’s health in Scotland. While there was a lot of statistical data available around the aspects of health that the SWC was considering, there was very little information available which reflects women’s experiences of, for example, going for a smear test, or attempting to obtain help with mental health issues. The SWC carried out an online survey, which attracted over 1300 responses, as well as a number of roundtable discussions in locations throughout Scotland. This work formed the basis of a conference which brought women together to discuss their experiences.
Each of the methods of engagement gave women the opportunity to share their stories of access to tests, treatment and recovery in a safe and confidential space. A report from the conference, as well as a series of advice and information leaflets were created. The SWC has encouraged women to use the information to press for the changes that they want to see. The ultimate aim of this work is to ensure that women are empowered with the confidence to talk more openly about their health, particularly the aspects that are still seen as taboo within society.
This work gave women the opportunity to openly discuss their issues, concerns and ideas for change across a broad range of aspects of women’s health. A number of themes emerged and some of the key findings were:
- Women need more information as to how to properly check their breasts for lumps and abnormalities. This has to begin at a young age, so that women become familiar with their bodies and can recognise where changes occur. This will allow for early detection and treatment of cancerous cells.
- Many women reported not attending their smear test appointments, because the timings do not suit them. Women who work shifts, for example, or those who have caring responsibilities, can find it difficult to fit in an appointment during the standard ‘9-5’ timings which tend to be available. Greater flexibility in appointments, incorporating evening and weekend availability, could increase uptake of this potentially life-saving test.
- There continues to be a stigma around mental health, which places barriers in the way of relevant, decent support, assistance and treatment. Mental health should be treated with the same urgency and importance as physical health. More recognition of the causes and consequences of poor mental health is required, as well as more support and recognition in the workplace.
Call to action
The SWC would encourage women to read the findings of this programme of work and use the information to press for the change they want to see. The organisation believes that women should feel confident and empowered to talk about their health openly, and not shy away from sharing issues and concerns with their friends, family, co-workers and peers. The more women talk, then the less stigma and taboo there will be around our bodies and our health.
This work is still ongoing and if you have a story to tell, please contact us.
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