I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the category “IWD”

#International Women’s Day

 

Today on International Women’s day I had a conversation with the children about what makes a woman awesome. We talked about Marie Curie, we talked about mother Theresa, Malala Yousafzai. We discussed famous women, rich woman and women who have made great strides in their chosen field and achieved great things. But its important to remember that for every famous and startling woman there are millions of women making their own great strides every single day.

Heads up to those women living with poor health and long term conditions who every day look after themselves and others. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women wondering where their next meal is coming from or how they can make their money stretch enough to afford the books from the School book fair. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women surviving domestic violence a day at a time. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women fighting for their children with Additional support needs to be educated in way that ensures that they reach their potential. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who are caring for parents, husbands, friends, neighbours who cannot manage without them. We are with you sisters.

Heads ups to those women who are struggling with pregnancy, birth or being a new mum. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women fighting addiction, starting each day with hope that this will be another day in recovery. whether or not it is. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who because of disability, race, gender, or just because they are women face inequality and discrimination every day. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who take a breath, put their lippy on and face a world they would rather hide from every single day of their lives. We are with you sisters.

And finally, heads up to those women who feel silenced, hidden, ignored, forgotten, helpless and without power. Those women for whom International Women’s Day is a complete irrelevance, for whom the idea that they might have agency or power or peace is so far out of their reach that they cannot even imagine it. We are so with you sisters. We see you and we have not forgotten you.

International Women’s Day is a day to speak up for women all over the world. Women who are achieving great things, Scaling great heights, succeeding in a world which is often designed to make that success more difficult.

But for me it is in the ordinary, the everyday, the hidden, the mundane that awesomeness can so often be found. So celebrate International Women’s Day and the great achievements of women past and present – but be proud of the achievements you make every single day of your life. A life lived is a success and you – WE – are awesome.

Love

#IWD2019

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At home in Caithness with International Women’s Day

Caithness general

8th March is International Women’s Day 2018. This year the UN asks us to reflect on the courage of ordinary women and to celebrate activists who are fighting for women’s equality and rights across the world. In their comments on the International Women’s Day page, the UN focus on sustainability, and specifically mentions the activism of women in rural areas working to  champion rights for women.

These are big issues – massive issues – violence against women, gender pay gaps, poverty, exploitation, climate change and it is of course, important that we understand the worldwide picture but it sometimes means that we can overlook the issues of importance that women are campaigning for in our own areas. These are the everyday battles that women in our own communities are facing. We have seen the important work that @vvfabs and other Women for Independence members have done in highlighting Period Poverty, the WFI Justice for Women Campaign and tonight I met with women from Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) who are fighting another battle right here in Scotland.

Caithness is a place in Scotland like no other. Some of you might know that I lived there for several years and loved it – still love it. It has a beauty which is stark and raw but it is beautiful nevertheless. It is however, 110 miles north of Inverness.  When I moved there, driving up the road in the late 90s, I thought we were never getting there. What looked fairly doable on a map proved to be a winding, twisting road which went on and on and on – and it was snowing –  and it was May  – and it took nearly three hours to get there from Inverness.

One of the things I checked out on my first visit to Wick were the medical facilities. I was reassured to see that there was a good hospital and doctors and services which would meet the needs of my growing family.  Since then however, the situation has steadily deteriorated with more and more services moving to Inverness. The biggest and most dramatic of these changes have been the changes to Maternity Services which took place in December 2016.  Previously, Caithness General had consultant obstetricians (2 and a locum) but no facilities for on-site specialist neonatal paediatric support or adult intensive care. Following a review, NHS Highland changed the Maternity Service from a consultant led service to a Midwife led Community Midwife Unit. These changes were supposed to provide safer, more reassuring care for the women of Caithness. At the time, Professor Hugo van Woerden, NHS Highland’s Director of Public Health and Health Policy, outlined the findings of his report, saying that the CMU was a recognised option and that NHS Highland “know how to make that model work.”

So here we are a year and half later, and it appears to be ABSOLUTELY clear that the model which NHS Highland introduced is ABSOLUTELY not working for the women of Caithness.

The idea is that where mums to be are deemed to have “high risk” pregnancies they would be required to deliver in Raigmore. Seems sensible right? But in the first year 210 babies were born to mums from Caithness and 199 of those were delivered in Raigmore. This suggests that over 90% of pregnancies in Caithness are “high risk”.  I wonder how that can possibly be the case but assuming that it might just be so, let us examine what that actually means.

It means some women being in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for days or weeks. This means they are at least 100 miles away from their home, from their other babies, their husbands, their support and their communities. Oh and let’s not forget, from their visitors. Not everyone knows people in Inverness who can visit if you are admitted for a prolonged period of time. Often days might go by without a pregnant woman having a visitor.

It means women travelling over 100 miles in labour sometimes in an Ambulance but often in their own cars. I have had five children and three miscarriages. Each birth was different – long labour, short labour, waters broken at home, emergency section, elective section. In all of them (except the last one) the trip to the hospital was not pleasant – and I only had a twenty minute journey at the most. Imagine two and half hours in a car, in labour.

Now imagine that journey in the dark without access to a loo, in the driving rain or even – as we saw last week in the snow following a snow plough. There is a bit of footage doing the rounds on twitter just now which was put up by Bear Scotland which shows the snow plough followed by two ambulances and a car. You can see it here.

I understand that one of these ambulances carried a sick baby, one a mum in labour and the car in between another pregnant mum. This is the reality of the experience of women travelling from Wick in labour. Later that same night two women had to travel together in one ambulance with a midwife. Now, there is no doubt that the snow plough driver and the ambulance driver and the dad driving the car in between did a great job. However, expecting pregnant women, at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, to travel those sorts of distances is appalling. It took over four hours to make that journey in the snow. It is not ok to expect a woman in labour to share an ambulance with another woman. It is not ok to ship pregnant women almost wholesale down to a Maternity Unit 110 miles away which, incidentally, is already bursting at the seams.

We know from lots of research that women given privacy, space and a stress free environment during labour need less pain relief and have less complications and yet over 90% of women in Caithness giving birth are subjected to this long and arduous journey.

And there is more.

I heard that some women who have suffered a miscarriage also have to get themselves to Raigmore Hospital. In at least one instance that meant a woman had to drive herself the 110 miles. Again, Ill remind you of the lack of public toilets or any facilities to deal with the sometimes horrific bleeding that can come on during a miscarriage.

I heard about pregnant, labouring women who have had to urinate in a layby or hammer on the door of a closed hotel to use a toilet. The embarrassment and the mortification these women expressed  is huge.

I heard the experiences of women whose husbands work off shore having to leave their other children with relatives and neighbours because they have to go suddenly to Inverness – for days.

I heard of the lack of accommodation at Raigmore for partners and families.  I heard that often women who are more vulnerable or less assertive than others don’t get the help and support that they need for accommodation when they arrive in Inverness because they are not able to speak out loudly enough.

I heard that Raigmore is at capacity and struggling to cope with the extra caseload.

I heard that people are leaving Caithness because they have no faith in the health services for their families. How do we ensure the sustainability of rural communities if we do not provide good quality health care?

I heard that women are rushing to leave hospital because they need to get back up the road for their other children or their partners and that NHS Highland dismiss that as being “their choice” with no recognition that Hobson’s choice is no choice at all.

I heard that women are deciding to limit the number of children they are having, not because of their own preferences but because the experiences have been so difficult, so traumatising and so awful they cannot face going through all that again.

All this makes me furious, but what makes me just as angry is that I heard that these women feel that their voices are not being heard.

NHS Highland appears to have utterly no interest in addressing the fears and concerns of the women involved. They repeatedly tell CHAT that they can’t speak about the experiences of the women involved.  They have failed to share important information with CHAT and they have failed to consult effectively with the wider community,  and its not just over Maternity Services, it is happening with other services too. NHS Highland have been patronising and patriarchal in their approach to the changes they have made and in the way they have failed to engage with women. These are women who should be having one of the greatest experiences of their lives and instead, in many cases,  are having one of the worst.

Women are feeling silenced. They are scared of speaking out in case they get the lovely midwives in trouble when they know the midwives are doing their best but are hampered by policy decisions made by the NHS Highland Board. Women are silenced and disempowered in the decision making process. They don’t speak out because nothing changes, because no one is listening and because, when you have just given birth, you maybe don’t have the emotional and physical strength to shout about your experiences.

Well, We are listening, because we know that it isn’t just the rest of the world that is failing women, it is happening right here. The Scottish Government plans a “Best Start” for all babies and children in Scotland. They say that “Maternity and Neonatal care should be co-designed with women and families from the outset, and put mother and baby together at the centre of service planning and delivery as one entity”. This is not happening in Caithness and there is no sign that NHS Highland has even read the introduction to the plan let alone thought about how they might try to achieve this in Caithness. The Scottish Government must put pressure on NHS Highland to improve services for women in Caithness and hold NHS Highland to account if they continue to fail to do so.

A Best Start is what we want for pregnant women in Scotland going forward – it is part of the fairer, better society which so many of us are working so hard to achieve. We are however, not only failing the women of Caithness  but all women if we do not acknowledge and listen to their experiences of childbirth. NHS Highland need to  take urgent action to do exactly that – listen, and then they must find an innovative solution to the issues I have mentioned here. International Women’s Day isn’t just about what’s happening in the rest of the world – it is about our women here too. These are our women and our children and we must do our very best to make sure they are heard and that their concerns are addressed.

Inspiration

Today is International Women’s Day and I have been thinking about women that have inspired me or women that I have respected.
There are many women of course. You can’t be involved in politics in Scotland just now without being aware of a number of politically savvy, impressive women. From Nicola Sturgeon as she stands up to the world as First Minister, to women in my own local networks that amaze me with their knowledge, with the way that they overcome their own fears and self doubt to speak up about the issues that they are passionate about. Working with Carers too, has brought me into contact with some amazing women, women who have to fight for everything they get for the people they love most in the world, often to their own breaking point. And that’s before I even touch upon my amazing mother and those women close to me.

And yet just now, there is only one woman on my mind and the reason she is on my mind is that I recently found out that she had passed away. She was my friend. I say that even though I hadn’t spoken to her for several years. She was always my friend and she will forever be my friend and would have continued to be so even had it been another ten years before I spoke to her again.

She came to my acquaintance with the least positive recommendation of anyone I ever met. I was being transferred from my job in a Jobcentre to an old style Unemployment Benefit Office in around 1993. Moving to manage a benefit section and with no experience of Benefit Processing, eyebrows were raised at my posting. “Who is your deputy?”  was the first question anyone asked and when I answered, the response was “Oh My God” or that sucked in sound that mechanics make when there is something wrong with your car. Fierce, uncompromising and a reputation for not suffering even the slightest of fools gladly, or in fact in any way at all – gladly or otherwise. She commanded respect for her knowledge of “widows running start”, “married woman’s reduced rate” and other jargon filled examples of advanced benefit processing. She was, I was told, a benefit expert, a harsh taskmaster and a critical, unforgiving supervisor and deputy and I should really watch my back.

Was I quaking in my shoes? Bloody right I was. I couldn’t “comp” a claim, I didn’t understand RITYs or the finer points of disallowances and tax and I wasn’t even sure that I even wanted the bloody job.

And yet in her I found a kindred spirit. Despite her brusque manner – she didn’t just call a spade a spade – she called a spade a fucking shovel – she had the kindest heart and she was a fabulous teacher. At our first meeting we eyed each other with caution, but we shared a sense of humour and under her watchful eye and by taking her advice on what I needed to know and how to learn it, I became an expert myself – knowledge which has helped me to understand the finer points of welfare reform and challenge many of the assertions that have been trotted out over the last few years. With my support she became better at managing people and getting the best out of them. She raged about “having to pussy foot around people’s finer fucking feelings” on many occasions but she learned to change the behaviour of people on our team through coaching and feedback and she grew and flourished. We complimented each other, worked well together. She had a fabulous sense of humour and when people would snidely question just exactly “who” was managing our section cos SHE seemed to have a lot to say – she bought me a mug which said “No – I’M the boss”. This made us laugh at their  lack of understanding of the way in which we worked so well together. I did a better job because of her and she did a better job because of me.

But jobs are one thing and of course don’t really last for ever. Mostly in my life, I move on and wave goodbye – often with a tear or two – but without any long lasting relationships continuing from my work. She was different.

At the point I met her she had just recently terminated a much wanted pregnancy after her amnio had given a diagnosis of Downs Syndrome. This was a difficult decision for her as it would be for anyone, and she struggled with her grief over the decision. How much harder it hurt then, when a few years later she received a letter telling her that she may have contracted Hepatitis C from an infected blood transfusion during the procedure. This did in fact turn out to be the case, and a new struggle started for her.

Life became a series of obstacles to overcome, the hepatitis C, the medication and its side effects, the effect on her own mental health and the stresses and strains of family life. I had moved to live in Scotland and long distant conversations became the norm. As my own life fell apart she was a source of support for me too. Living 500 miles away my marriage ended and despite her own challenges, she always found time to be on the end of the phone. Years later I thanked her for that and she laughed and said “Just repaying the favour chuck” reminding me of the time she phoned me late late late, in a terrible state, standing by the side of a reservoir, unclear about what to do next and I talked her through her feelings to the point she was able to go home. We later laughed about the reaction of her Lancashire based Doctor when, after promising I would phone her GP for her as she didn’t feel able, he returned my phone call and found it answered by “Wick Jobcentre”. “Where???” He asked bewildered, but he took my concerns seriously and further investigation showed she had a terrible reaction to her medication causing a serious depression.

She helped me practically too. With an ex husband who thought that maintenance was something optional that I had a bloody cheek to ask him for, I frequently struggled my way from one end of my family credit to the other.  She bought new trainers for my growing too fast boys and she never once tutted or told me to pull myself together.

I never laughed so much as I laughed with her. I never cried so much as I cried with her. It would be a long time before I found a friend that I would love like I loved her and yet, time and tide wait for no man and, although she tripped the 400 odd miles to come see us in Inverness and stayed with us for a few days with her lovely daughter and grand-daughter, our contact grew less and the times between our phone calls lengthened and it became several years since I last spoke to her.

My friend inspired me with her resilience, she inspired me with her relentless sense of humour, she inspired me with her love for her family and the ferocious way  that she defended them. She inspired me with the way she spoke her mind, the way she fought to be treated with interferon and then, when it kicked off a terrible depression, the way she fought that to get some control back into her life. She inspired me with her determination to overcome the things that life threw at her, she inspired me by the way she faced this bloody disease she had been saddled with, and the stigma that came with having a disease that was associated with drug addicts and promiscuity. She faced it full on, stuck two fingers up at it and got on with it to the absolute best of her ability.

She was a force to be reckoned with – someone I would affectionately describe as a “bugger” and even though I haven’t spoken to her in a long time, the news of her passing fills me with a sadness that bites, a sadness that I will never hear her dulcet Lancashire tones on the end of the phone ever again, a sadness that is deeper because of our lack of contact. On her last visit, nearly nine years ago now, I introduced her to my new man, now my husband. She shook his hand and in a very posh voice said “Hello John, it’s very nice to meet you.” Then as he walked off she turned to me and in a low voice and a broad northern accent said “By ‘eck – E’s a bit of alright int e”. She made me laugh then and she still does.

Inspiring women aren’t always in the public eye, aren’t always celebrities or politicians, industry leaders, writers or  artists. They are often, like my friend, inspiring by the way they deal with life and its ability to knock us off our feet again and again. I’ll miss my friend and I’ll try hard not to make the mistake of letting friendships and contact lapse with anyone else ever again – another thing she has taught me even in her absence. It is in the every day that true inspiration is often found and I am proud that she was my friend and thankful that I knew her.

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