Cervical cancer is a women’s issue

Kiri Tunks is a teacher and trade unionist and a founder member of Woman’s Place UK.

Cancer Research has removed the word ‘woman’ from advice on cervical screening.  As someone who had treatment for pre-cancerous cells in my early 20s, this really worries me.

I remember the death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer at the age of 27 and how her death was used to spearhead a campaign to get young women to get checked. Now numbers are dropping again.

How is the erasure of sex from this guidance going to help address this?

The truth is that many, many women and girls are in ignorance of their bodies – not helped by a failure of this country to make sex and relationships education statutory.  ‘Everyone with a cervix’ excludes women who don’t know what a cervix is.  There will be added obstacles for women for whom English is a second language or those with poor literacy.

Of course, health services should be inclusive and accessible to all but you don’t do that by erasing women or pretending female biology doesn’t exist. And if we are being inclusive why hasn’t CRC changed the language around prostate cancer?

‘Women and transmen’ has fewer characters than ‘everyone who has a cervix’ and has the benefit of absolute clarity, so that all affected people know they are included.

Public Health England provides clear specialised advice for trans and non-binary people.  Health services have a duty of care to ensure that meeting one person’s needs does not put either trans people or the general population at risk.

There is enough obfuscation in medicine and healthcare without adding to it. Already medical research works against women with modelling and testing based on male bodies – think different symptoms for heart attacks.

Women’s historical experience of medicine is one of invasion, brutality and ridicule and, even now, it is hard to feel that our healthcare provides the best service for women.

Those of you who have had a mammogram will know what I mean when I ask is there really no better, less painful or more dignified way of checking for breast cancer? Where is all the money and research being put into finding a better way of doing that? I bet testicles aren’t checked by being slammed between two hard plates and depressed with force.

It’s why mammography in the UK is a job with a Genuine Occupation Requirement of being female. This is one of the single sex exemptions that exist under equality law and one of the rights Woman’s Place UK is fighting to retain.

Research on attitudes to male mammographers show a significant proportion of women already refuse to have mammograms if the mammographer is male. More women fail to return for a follow-up if they had had a male mammographer.

Women who have had a hysterectomy should be fully informed by their surgeon about whether or not cervical screening continues to be relevant to them, depending on the type of the hysterectomy they have had.

Erasing women is putting our lives at risk. It’s that simple. 

Women have been subjected to poor healthcare and advice for too long. From symphyisiotomy to the vaginal mesh scandal, there are myriad examples of how cavalier medicine can be with women’s health.

This latest guidance should be a wake up call to us that women still don’t matter. And it is only ourselves who will make us count.

We need to defend the little we have – and demand the more we need. 

#sexmatters

#sexnotgender