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Why this week has been a week of pioneering change for women's health


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In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, the Irish vote to repeal the eighth amendment and the lifted ban on Saudi female drivers, women’s issues appear high on the global agenda of change in 2018.

This August we have seen no different with further liberation of women’s choice and heightened awareness surrounding particular health issues faced by women and young girls.

Indeed, the chief shifts this week have centered on abortion, period poverty and menopause becoming ever-fading taboos owing to increased focus on such topics in both government and mainstream media.

Here is a round-up of three recent key shifts in the female health sphere and how such changes may impact female experience in the future.

Abortion pill reforms

This week, England has followed in the footsteps of Scotland and Wales by allowing women undergoing pregnancy terminations to self-administer their second abortion pill at home.

The reform, due to be enacted by the end of this year, was instigated primarily because of many reports by women experiencing miscarriage symptoms whilst travelling home from abortion clinics.

Currently, women seeking abortion within their first 10 weeks of gestation are required to take two pills in the abortion clinic, administered 24-48 hours apart.

However, the new legislation will see women being given the choice to take their second pill either at the clinic, as is current procedure, or at home, avoiding the chance of miscarrying during travelling.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said the legal shift will guarantee women are provided “safe and dignified care” throughout the  “difficult experience”.

The motion has been supported by leading medics including Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who said the move was “a major step forward for women’s healthcare”.

It is also supported by numerous activist groups including the Women’s Equality Party and Humanists UK.

Free sanitary products in Scotland

The Scottish government has become the first in the world to establish a scheme providing free sanitary products in universities, schools and colleges.

The initiative, costing £5.2m, was announced by the Scottish government following a preliminary trial in Aberdeen.

The government have designed the scheme alongside the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

The initiative is deemed crucial after a recent survey of 2,000 individuals by the Young Scot uncovered that around one in four respondents had faced difficulties accessing feminine hygiene products.

The Communities Secretary, Aileen Campbell, said: “Our £5.2m investment will mean these essential products will be available to those who need them in a sensitive and dignified way, which will make it easier for students to fully focus on their studies”.

Hey Girls, a Scottish social enterprise company which has been tackling period poverty since its inception further highlighted the importance of the move by calling it “a real milestone in the fight against period poverty”. 

Menopause on the agenda

The final major women’s health news story this week concerns a push for the normalisation of menopause by Dr Andrea Davies, professor at the University of Leicester’s business school.

She has been encouraging fellow academics to say the word ‘menopause’ three times per day in a pledge to raise awareness over the struggles surrounding this particular aspect of women’s health.

Menopause is the biological process which occurs when a middle-aged woman transitions to being infertile, typically around the age of 51.

It can cause many unpleasant symptoms, lasting four years on average, including hot flushes, headaches, loss of concentration and depression.

One of Dr Davies’ wishes is for women to be able to announce in a meeting when they are experiencing a hot flush adding that “what I’ve seen in the data and from anecdotal stories and some of my own interviews is women are leaving work because they feel embarrassed, undermined or unable to cope”.

She goes on to say that workplaces can make simple changes to be more accommodating to menopausal women including providing desk fans and water fountains, dedicating rest areas and introducing special absence policies as suggested in a report by the Government Equalities Office.

Dr Davies has also established the monthly Leicester Menopause Café, open to men and women, as part of her attempt to reduce the taboo surrounding menopause and its associated issues.

The cafe aims "to avoid any closeted words or acronyms and just say menopause – preferably three times a day, to make it unremarkable" as well as making it clear "that menopause should not be a women’s only issue.”

Ultimately, this week’s events appear to reflect the shifting face of the wider female experience which we have already observed this year including the lifted ban on Saudi women driving and increased exposure of sexual harassment in the workplace.

2018 may indeed prove to be the tipping point for women’s issue recognition on a global magnitude.

Lead Image: KateNolan1979

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