Welcome to our blog! This is a platform where the rich diversity of women's voices can be heard and where we can come together to turn attention on the myriad of issues that affect a variety of women. We celebrate where things are good, and focus a spotlight on areas where they aren't. If you want to write something for this space please just get in touch!

Before sending us your blog, please note: We publish articles that are written by women, pro all women & not for profit in their intention. We welcome lighter pieces as well as articles on more serious issues. There is no specific word count, but most pieces are around the 700 word mark.

Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.

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Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager – Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK writes

What do you think of when you remember your school days? Playground games of tig? School dinners? Smoking behind the bike sheds maybe? Some of you might have got into fights or been bullied. School isn’t fun for everyone.

It’s unlikely that you had to worry about the chance of being poisoned at school though, or gassed. Or that your teachers could be attacked on the way to registration, because teaching you was considered controversial.

If you were a girl in Afghanistan, those fears would be very real. In the past decade or so the number of girls enrolled at school in Afghanistan has risen exponentially, but the Taliban and other groups still oppose girls’ education: girls schools are attacked, female pupils are poisoned, teachers of girls are threatened, or worse.

Parween is a Headteacher of a girls’ school in Laghman province in Afghanistan. Her son was brutally murdered because of her work teaching girls. Can you imagine the despair Parween must have felt at hearing that news? But despite the loss of her son and continuing threats of violence, Parween refuses to give up on girls’ education.

Women like Parween - teachers and doctors, journalists and civil society activists –are the unsung heroes of women’s rights in Afghanistan. It is these women who go to work every day, not for glory or notoriety, but because they believe in women’s rights and peace, and they are committed to doing everything they can to make life better for Afghanistan’s next generation.

It’s hard to imagine that wanting to help others could be such a risky business. But in Afghanistan even doctors, by definition people aiming to heal others, can be violently targeted.

Dr D. (whose name we have had to conceal for security reasons) is a gynaecologist who has worked with women and girls who have been raped or abused. Because of her work, Dr D’s house was attacked with a bomb which seriously injured her 11 year old son. Months later her 22 year old brother was killed in a grenade attack.

Can you imagine being targeted for helping others? I have asked myself if I would be brave enough to continue working in the circumstances faced by Parween and Dr D. I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that the Afghan authorities and international community invested in Afghanistan have a responsibility to do all they can to protect and support women human rights defenders, who are on the frontline of pressing for respect for human rights.

As a member of NATO, a key donor and diplomatic ally, the UK has significant influence in Afghanistan. They also have a responsibility, which they have committed to under EU guidelines, to support and protect human rights defenders.

The UK should be championing the work of women like Parween and Dr D. We want to tell their stories, so that Afghanistan’s unsung heroes receive the support and protection they deserve.

Find out more about two women's stories here

Women's rights: A teacher's story

Women's rights: A doctor's story

Amnesty International Women’s Rights in Afghanistan


LINK TO THIS ENTRY (copy + paste):
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“He made my life intolerable… saying I wasn’t doing my job properly any more … In the end, it got so bad, he just kept complaining about my work, and he’d never said anything about it before, and saying I wasn’t pulling my weight in the office”. (Davis et al, 2005)

After what seems like years of silence, pregnancy discrimination is fast becoming a hot topic.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all recently come out against pregnancy discrimination with Jo Swinson MP (Minister for Employment Relations) noting that it was “both appalling and illegal. No employer should be able to get away with this kind of behaviour”.

Maria Miller MP (Minister for Women and Equalities) also spoke out when announcing the £1million research into the issue. She declared that, “...it’s unacceptable. I am determined that we tackle these systemic problems which leave women feeling undervalued and penalised”.

But Maternity Action are not celebrating just yet. Whilst the government’s display of concern on the issue is welcome, there is still urgent action they can take if they are serious about ending pregnancy discrimination.

In our new report, ‘Overdue: a plan of action to tackle pregnancy discrimination now’ we examine why justice for women who’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination has become even more inaccessible.

We call on the government to:

    •    Abolish (or at least reduce to a nominal level) the upfront fees for pregnancy discrimination and other employment tribunal claims
    •    Abandon the planned abolition of the ‘questionnaire procedure’ in discrimination claims.
    •    Establish a process for publicly ‘naming and shaming’ employers found by a tribunal to have flouted the law on
         pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
    •    Take urgent and robust action to improve the rate of compliance with employment tribunal awards.
    •    Match its funding of new EHRC research with funding for the specialist information and advice services that pregnant
         women and new mothers need to help protect their rights at work.
    •    Launch a public information campaign aimed at improving both workers’ and employers’ awareness and understanding
         of the law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
    •    Send out a clear and strong message to employers that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful, and
         that a harsh economic environment is no excuse to flout the law.

Join our campaign today!

"I went to the council offices...and said 'Oh my god, I'm pregnant and I've just been fired'. Reality hit. My rent was £250 a week, which I could very easily afford last week. I was so completely distraught... saying I should have an abortion, I can't afford this child." (Davis et al, 2005)

In 2005, three years before the global financial crisis hit, a landmark study by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that each year 30,000 women were forced out of their job.  Eight years on, all the available evidence suggests that figure is now more like 60,000.

Alongside our new report, Maternity Action and the Valuing Maternity Campaign Partners are launching the ‘When I Had My Baby’ campaign.  This campaign aims to shed light on real women’s stories and show the human impact behind the statistics.

If you or someone you know has been treated badly at work because you are pregnant or taking maternity or paternity leave then we want to hear about it.

Here’s what you can do:

    •    Tell your story! 
        
Tell us anonymously by emailing us or share it on our Facebook Wall or on Twitter using the hashtag  #WhenIHadMyBaby
    •    Be creative! 
         Include a photo with your story from your life as a working mum or dad and bring your story to life on our PhotoStory Wall
    •    Spread the word! 
         Share yours and other people’s stories through your own Twitter and Facebook
    •    Keep in touch! 
         Sign up to the Valuing Maternity Campaign News

    


PLEASE NOTE THE SURVEY HAS NOW CLOSED. VISIT Women’s Health and Equality Consortium (WHEC) TO FOLLOW UP ON THE RESULTS

Have you ever had problems signing up to a GP? Then you are not alone, many women in the UK find it hard to access basic healthcare services.  Three months ago, my husband and I moved to a new area.. Despite not having childcare responsibilities and only working part-time, it took me a few months before I managed to register with a new GP. I found the registration process frustrating and time-consuming and I ended up going three weeks without the arthritis medication I need.

When the NHS was created in the late 1940’s, the intention was to provide a good-quality, free healthcare-system that would meet the needs of all. Sadly, however many people still struggle to access NHS services, what we call ‘health inequalities’. The NHS mandate from the Department of Health in 2012 acknowledged that the UK still struggles with “too many longstanding and unjustifiable inequalities in access to services, in the quality of care, and in health outcomes for patients.” [1]

In the UK, as in many countries, our society is still based on the assumption that someone (traditionally women) will be available to provide free childcare and look after sick, elderly or disabled relatives. For many decades governments have been encouraging women to work, but the NHS has not changed to cope with the added burden of care. This means women still bear the brunt of care work in the UK and combining this with employment means they often have no time to look after their own health.

In the UK, GPs are the gatekeepers to most healthcare and some social care services too. It is important that GP services are accessible to ensure everyone gets the healthcare they need. A survey by the Patients Association [2] found that inflexible booking systems and surgery hours that clash with work and caring responsibilities prevent patients from accessing the healthcare they need is a common complaints by patients.

Some research suggests that women, and lower income earners (who also tend to be women) find it harder to communicate with doctors, possibly because of the inherent power-dynamics of the traditional doctor-patient relationship where doctors are seen as experts, giving top-down advice, rather than as partners in health. Not all doctors have the emphatic and open-minded attitudes that put patients at ease, and some aspects of women’s health may be viewed by some as taboo subjects. Many women report not wanting to discuss sexual health and contraception with a male GP.

Women are 40% more likely than men to experience some of the most common mental health problems like depression and anxiety [3]. There is some evidence that mental health is under-resourced and that GPs are often unable to offer their patients alternatives to medication, unless they can afford private counselling. [4]

The Women’s Health and Equality Consortium (WHEC) is trying to find out more about the problems women have in accessing healthcare and will report back to the Department of Health early next year with findings. We want to hear about women’s experiences of using GP services, whether good or bad.

Please take our confidential and anonymous survey now: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/healthforwomen

The survey takes about 5-8 minutes and is your chance to tell decision makers how healthcare can become more accessible and user friendly for women like you!


Sources

[1] The Mandate: a mandate from the government to the NHS Commissioning Board: April 2013 to March 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213131/mandate.pdf

[2] Patients Association ‘Primary Care Review Vol. II Primary Care: Access Denied?’ March 2013 http://www.patients-association.com/Portals/0/PCR_Vol-II%20(Access%20Denied)_Final.pdf

[3] James Ball, ‘Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds’, the Guardian, Wednesday 22 May 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

[4] The Centre for Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group / London School of Economics, ‘How Mental Illness Loses Out in the NHS’, http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/special/cepsp26.pdf

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