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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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

A year ago I founded a forum, Ladies Who Impress, hosting events, which celebrate female role models and inspire women to be more confident, creative and make the most of their talents.

It is admittedly challenging, amidst work, family and other responsibilities, to find time and energy for recreational activities, which are not just relaxing and distracting, but also intellectually stimulating, throughout-provoking and inspiring. What's more, when we think about role models, we often imagine them to be perfect, flawless superwomen, effortlessly juggling career and home, smiling at mere mortals from the cover of the magazines.

Ladies Who Impress would like to challenge that perception of female role models. Women I admire are talented, passionate, brilliant at what they do, but they are not perfect. They are down-to-earth, grounded, a little bit vulnerable, which is what makes them genuinely inspiring.

In October 2012 at the very first Ladies Who Impress celebration I interviewed theatre director Marianne Elliott, much accoladed for her productions of the War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. During the interview in front of the live audience, Marianne talked less about her success and more about the challenges of putting on a play, of her uncontrollable nerves on the first night of every show and of how difficult it is not to take negative reviews personally. She appeared so 'normal' that one could easily believe that such rare achievements as theatre box office sensations are in fact possible for ordinary humans with a bit of talent, passion and hard work put in for good measure. The audience loved her.

Earlier this year I interviewed the amazing Katherine Grainger, who told the audience about her rowing career and her journey to that very special Gold at the London Olympic Games. However, for me personally, one of the most memorable things she said was about having a bad day and how to let yourself accept it and move on. What a trivial memory and yet what a revelation that even such a strong, determined woman of unfathomable willpower can have a weak moment. Listening to Katherine, I could relate to her experience, which led me to become kinder to myself on even the most disastrous of days.

One year on, I am more passionate than ever to showcase female talent in order to demonstrate that it's not superwomen who reach tremendous heights but ordinary women who one day take one huge gulp of confidence, fire up with passion and decide to follow their stars. I am convinced we all have it in us to make dreams come true, and it's by no means easy. One thing is required, and that's to take your first step. And this when I come in with my female role models and their inspiring, life-changing stories.

Jana Bakunina, founder, www.ladieswhoimpress.com.




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Discovering the First Female English Playwright; or, Why We Should Care About Cary

It’s the kind of question you might find in a pub quiz: name the first original play in English known to have been written by a woman.  Now name the playwright.  Yet having spent the last few months working on said play, we have found that very few people have heard of The Tragedy of Mariam and its author, Elizabeth Cary.  When we’ve been out publicising the show, people have responded with surprise that the woman occupying this unique place in English literature should be unknown to them.  Yet Cary’s relative obscurity no doubt stems from the fact that in the four hundred years since its publication, there has never been a fully staged production of her work in the capital…until now.

We have been working with Lazarus Theatre Company on their production of The Tragedy of Mariam which is the first known staging of the play in London since its publication in 1613.  As practitioners we are both well versed in the work of Shakespeare and our knowledge of the time at which he was writing is shaped by its depiction in his plays. 

Yet Mariam sheds new light on some of the preconceptions that we might have had about Jacobean England and particularly women’s role within society.  Exploring issues such as female agency, divorce and abusive relationships, many of the themes of Mariam remain all too relevant today.  Written by a woman at a time when women were banned from performing on the public stage, Cary’s text is remarkable not only for giving a voice to a host of varied and nuanced female protagonists, but also for waiting until the fifth scene before featuring a male character.

At first glance it might be easy to brand these wildly contrasting women with a sensational Hollywood tag-line to define them: Mariam the Chaste, Salome the Black Widow, Alexandra (Mariam's mother) the Betrayer, Doris the Spurned Woman and Graphina the Naïve.  Cary's text however offers a much more in-depth consideration of femininity, exploring what success means for these women and the tactics they use to achieve it.  Dying for their beliefs, fighting against the injustices of gender discrimination, and putting their own pain and suffering to one side for the sake of their children, these women are so much more than a tag-line. Using their intellect, connections and guile to gain influence and power, each one of them makes huge sacrifices along the way.

Lazarus are well-known for producing plays with strong female leads and all-female casts, such as their all-female production of Women Of Troy at the Blue Elephant Theatre last year. This is extremely exciting and wonderfully refreshing in an industry where (to quote Richard Schechner) “For every Ophelia and Gertrude there are Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Gravediggers [and] the Ghost”.

The casting practice adopted by Lazarus goes further than simply placing female actors in male roles, as the text is adapted to transform male protagonists into female characters.  This was a key component in Lazarus' recent production of Lear, which featured the brilliant Jennifer Shakesby in the title role, and in Gavin Harrington-Odedra's adaptation of Mariam, a handful of male characters have been adapted into female characters and the remaining male roles stripped back to just one protagonist, Herod.  This device gave us the space to create a world that had been freed from the oppressive rule of a tyrannical King, exploring how these women existed without the fear and weight of male domination, only to have that freedom taken away when Herod returned.

In contrast to the patriarchal society depicted in the drama, our rehearsal room was a female dominated space, comprised of two men (one of whom was the director Gavin Harrington-Odedra) and 10 women (one of whom was Sara, the assistant director).  Some companies would have rehearsed by only calling in the actors required for a particular scene, which would have seen our Herod being called in pretty late in the day, but the ensemble nature of this production is uniquely cultivated in the rehearsal room; this means everyone has to be in attendance at each rehearsal as we work through the text, write the music and devise the action.  This inclusive style of rehearsal, lead skilfully by Gavin, meant that every voice had the space to express itself while we as a company uncovered and developed these remarkable characters.

Classical drama’s 2:1 casting ratio in favour of male performers has been widely reported and it is refreshing to work with a company which is committed to addressing this inequality.  Furthermore, choosing to stage Mariam, Lazarus is challenging the ongoing lack of recognition for female playwrights.  Last year The Guardian reported that women writers accounted for only 35% of the new plays put on at England’s top ten most subsidised theatres and when combined with numerous revivals of canonical works by writers such as Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekov, it is clear that we still have a long way to go before women’s voices are equally heard in the theatre.  That Mariam begins with a female character musing on her experience of speaking publically, ‘How oft have I with public voice run on’, demonstrates how many of the issues that Cary explores remain pertinent today.

It has been a humbling experience to work on this landmark production of Cary’s challenging and inspiring play and hopefully now, should the question of England’s first female playwright arise, a few more people will know the answer.


Paula James & Sara Reimers

Lazarus Theatre Company


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2) The Unsung Heroes of Afghanistan

3) Overdue: a plan of action to tackle pregnancy discrimination now

4) Just how accessible are the UK's free, universal Health Service?

5) Why We Need Female Role Models

6) Discovering the First Female English Playwright; or, Why We Should Care About Cary

7) Black women, feminism and the view from the outside: #solidarityisforwhitewomen

8) Why hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen went viral in 24h

9) From Sexist Exclusion to Feminist Inclusion: the Art of Pauline Boty

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11) Starting a new business following redundancy

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18) An invitation to Sky News

19) Why it is Time for a Criminal Offence of Domestic Abuse

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