Last Sunday, I virtually met with a group of Highams Park women (and one man) to mark International Women’s Day, for the fourth year running. This year was a bit of a different format to the previous IRL gatherings but still, some powerful conversations were had and we all went away with a lot to think about.
The conversation has moved on a bit this week, for obvious and horrific reasons. I’m not going to write about male violence today – other women are doing that so much more powerfully than I could – but it is, of course, on my mind like it is on so many women’s minds today.
What I wanted to write about is what’s been lurking at the back of my mind ever since that conversation on Sunday and happily, there is some small action we can take on it. I’ll come to that. The conversation was about how women’s health issues are misunderstood and minimised and just a few days after IWD, I found a prime example. Research led by the University of Birmingham has found that PCOS signficantly increases the risk of contracting Covid. Significantly! This is a condition that affects 10% of all women and a disease that is currently affecting the entire world and it hasn’t even made the papers. I found it because I went looking for it but the only sources I found were medical journals, not the mainstream media. Women’s health is just not headline-making news.
When I shared this on Facebook, the responses all told a similar story to what I’d heard on IWD – that our health issues aren’t taken seriously by doctors and women are made to feel like they’re being hysterical or over-emotional about their physical issues. Which is pretty circular and annoying when you think about it – the same hormones that give us these physical issues also give us extremes of emotion. Yet we’re not allowed to get emotional about it all?
Screw that! We deal with so much, compared to men, and we deal with a lot of it on a monthly basis. Ovulation pain, period pain, mood swings, pelvic floor problems from pregnancy and birth, issues to do with pregnancy and birth themselves, female cancers that don’t get picked up till too late. The whole gamut of symptoms that we are told are “normal”. It’s normal to be in pain every month. It’s normal to feel dizzy every month. It’s normal to struggle with breastfeeding or struggle to get pregnant. It’s supposed to be reassuring but it’s not. It’s patronising and minimising. We want our pain dealt with, our cancers diagnosed and our fertility issues addressed. What Would Men Do?
I said there was a positive to all of this and there is – the government launched a public facing survey on this exact issue to mark IWD. We have a chance to feed back all these injustices and, even if no action is taken on the back of this, at least our voices can be heard. All the context is here and the actual survey is here. It’s only open for 12 weeks, which sounds like ages but it’s probably best to get it done while we’re still thinking about it and before the next thing comes to knock us off course. Let’s take the chance to do something and have our say. It might be painful and emotional to fill out but I’d urge you to do it if you can. This needs to change. Let’s be heard!