This International Women’s Day, Women’s Health Magazine asked a squad of women driving #pressforprogress what their vision is for the next 100 years. Ourmala’s chief executive and founder Emily Brett was one of them.
Just as not all superheroes wear capes, not all of Women’s Health’s biggest inspirations boast a six-figure Instagram following, a primetime TV gig or a book deal.
The six women below, for example, are more likely to be found performing complicated pelvic surgery on a busy hospital ward. Or campaigning to make sexist policies (hello tampon tax) a thing of the past. Or teaching yoga to traumatised women seeking asylum in the UK.
Basically, they’re pretty bloody extraordinary. And one hundred years on from some women getting the right to vote (unless you owned property or were over 30 you had to wait another decade) it’s about time we big them up.
These women aren’t here simply because they have good intentions. They’re here because, across the spectrum of women’s health and wellbeing, they’re getting sh*t done.
That’s why we’ve asked each of women to write a letter to women living 100 years from now. Sharing not only the change they’re fighting for in 2018, but also how they want the world to look a century on from now.
With women this passionate, tenacious and effective, you can bet their visions are much more than just a wish list.
Over to them, the Women’s Health change makers.
1 . THE CEO WHO GOT US SAYING ‘THIS GIRL CAN’
Dear Women of 2118,
If predictions have come true you’ll have self-driving cars and can expect to live decades longer than the 83 years which is the average here in 2018.
One of the big things that will help you live this longer life well is if you can do whatever sport or exercise you want – without fear of how you look, how skilled you are, or what anyone else might think. I hope the little voice in the heads of many women here in 2018 – including me – that perhaps we aren’t good enough, strong enough or skilled enough to do what we want – is long gone.
I hope the pictures you see and the stories you hear encourage you to follow your wishes and dreams in every part of your lives. I hope the images that inspire you reflect reality, not a slimmed down, carefully-choreographed version that makes you feel as though you will always fall short. You don’t. You won’t.
As we narrow the gender gap here in 2018 between men and women in many parts of sport, we still wrestle with some real inequalities. For example, if you earn less, you’re much less likely to be active. I hope this sounds as strange to you as it does to me that women 100 years before I write this letter had to be over 30 and own property to vote.
We took a small step forward with This Girl Can – I hope you’ve made a much bigger leap since then.
Jennie Price, CEO of Sport England
2. THE GYNAECOLOGIST FIGHTING FOR WOMEN TO BE HEARD
Dear Women of 2118,
Early on in my medical training I learned an important lesson: providing the healthcare women need is about so much more than knowing the clinical basics. I need to understand the social and cultural impact of different maladies – and their treatments – on women. I need to listen.
Earlier in my career I worked across Africa with women who were victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) and those who had been forced into child marriage. On moving to the UK, I expected all women to have access to good quality healthcare. I was surprised to see that in my field – gynaecology – this wasn’t the case.
Women weren’t getting the right access to specialists. Symptoms such as chronic pain were all-too-often dismissed as psychological problems.
Take the now-infamous vaginal mesh story. Over the past two decades I saw surgery to insert permanent mesh devices become the go-to, ‘quick-fix’ solution for women with stress-induced incontinence. Women who likely could have improved leakage by doing physio exercises had meshes fitted, which in some cases, devastated their lives.
I’m not a campaigner. But I am an advocate for my patients. Last year I realised that in order to do this effectively, I couldn’t just stay in my lane. So I spoke out: to doctors, to reporters and law-makers. And I’ll keep speaking out.
By the time you read this I hope the gender imbalance in women’s healthcare has been addressed, and that female doctors are leading in the field. I hope that every woman who approaches her doctor with a problem is listened to. I want women’s bodies to be respected. Most of all, I want all this to be old news.
With best wishes for a bright future,
Dr Sohier Elneil
Consultant urogynaecologist at University College London Hospital
3. THE YOGA TEACHER HELPING REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
Dear Women of 2118,
I don’t know how much you know about the UK’s asylum system in 2018. Put simply, it’s soul-destroying. The long backlog of cases means traumatised people wait years to find out whether they’ll receive government protection. During this time, they can’t work, and have to exist on a £35 weekly handout.
Worse, England is the only country in Europe where it’s legal to hold displaced people indefinitely in detention centres. It’s an experience that can re-traumatise the women we work with, most of whom have fled war where sexual violence has been used to destroy their community. Or who have been human trafficked for modern slavery.
The system makes them feel like burdens. Or that they’re lying about their story and need for support. At Ourmala, a social enterprise that supports displaced people through yoga, we counteract this with messages of our own: we see you; we believe you; we respect you.
Yoga serves a practical purpose. It makes these women more relaxed and able to communicate, so we can understand their housing or legal situation and connect them with people who can help. But most importantly it helps women claim a little piece of power back.
I hope by 2118 you live in a Britain where yoga been integrated into the NHS so people can reap its powerful mind-body healing benefits, no matter their financial situation. I hope that indefinite detention has ended and centres like Yarl’s Wood have been closed.
If you live in a society where each person’s humanity is respected, they will have no place in it.
Love and best wishes,
Founder of Ourmala
4. THE MP FIGHTING PERIOD POVERTY
Right now, in 2018, we’re seeing a continued fight for gender equality – a battle that’s as urgent in healthcare as it is in politics or business.
I’m proud that, since becoming an MP in 2015, I’ve campaigned for gender equality. I’m striving toward making living healthily a reality for all women, not a just a privileged few.
The highlight was my motion to scrap the ‘Tampon Tax’, which saw me become the first opposition backbencher to successfully amend a government budget. Not only does it stand to save money for millions of women across the country, it marks another step toward removing the stigma around women’s issues.
I’m also doing all I can to raise the profile of period poverty. It’s wrong that in 2018, girls are missing out on their education, or getting by with toilet paper stuffed in their underwear because families can’t afford sanitary protection due to low pay and welfare cuts. The indignity and humiliation of going without is unacceptable.
One hundred years from now, I hope the embarrassment many women feel when talking about health problems is consigned to history. I hope conditions like endometriosis are no longer seen as ‘niche’, and attract the funding and research due to them.
I’ll keep fighting each battle we face in the push for full equality for women. Tackling the structural and economic barriers that stop women reaching their full potential and living healthy, happy lives.
Labour MP for Dewsbury and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health
5. THE MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGNER CHAMPIONING BODY POSITIVITY
Dear Women of 2118,
I hope that this letter finds you well.
By ‘well’ I don’t just mean physically. I hope that by 2118 we will live in a society where mental health is recognised to be just as important as its physical counterpart.
Better yet, I hope that it is widely acknowledged that the body and the mind don’t exist in silos and that medicine seeks to treat the whole human.
I hope that our National Health Service is still the proud institution it was always designed to be and has not succumbed to the brutal funding cuts it is experiencing in these economically uncertain times.
I hope that everyone can access the care that they need expediently and that mental health services are given a significant chunk of the overall health budget (here in 2018 they only receive around 1%).
Most of all, I hope that you truly love and value yourself. I hope the wallpaper of your world reflects the glorious diversity of the human body. I hope that social media (if it still exists) isn’t littered with comments drawing attention to the perceived ‘flaws’ of women or posts that they ‘asked’ for unwanted sexual attention.
I hope there is a widespread cultural understanding that we each have total ownership of our body, it is ours to do with as we please without fear of consequence. I hope that women are celebrated as more than the sum of their parts.
With all my love,
Natasha Devon MBE
Natasha’s first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental (£12.99, Bluebird) is out in May
6. THE CHARITY CEO LEADING THE FIGHT AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Dear Women of 2118,
I truly hope that issues of inequality and violence against women are as alien to you today, as the idea of women being unable to vote seems to us in 2018.
In 2018, a staggering one woman in four experiences domestic violence during her lifetime. Violence against women and girls is the biggest social issue affecting women and children. It is rooted in inequality between the sexes and is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women.
Over the years I have seen domestic abuse rise up the political agenda and onto the public stage, yet still, two women are being killed every week by a current or former partner. Will two women a week still die in 2118? I sincerely hope not.
Refuge’s life-saving and life-changing services support over 6,000 women and children daily. Refuge works tirelessly with the Government and criminal justice agencies to share the voices and experiences of women.
Later this year (2018), we will see the creation of a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. Tragically, this important legislation will be seriously undermined by the devastating funding cuts we face, which threaten the very existence of women’s refuges in the UK.
As you read this letter – one hundred years from now – I hope this didn’t happen. I hope the death toll and number of lives ruined by domestic violence will have dramatically fallen.
My wish is that, by 2118, Refuge’s mission is achieved: that we no longer live in a world where violence against women and girls is tolerated and ignored.
Sandra Horley CBE
Chief executive of national domestic violence charity, Refuge