The Women’s Institute has been campaigning on a wide variety of issues since 1918. In fact, there have been 400 resolutions passed since that year. These resolutions range from issues such as equal pay for women to addressing food poverty.
The one thing all WI resolutions have in common is that they are all suggested and voted in by WI members.
At our next meeting on Wednesday the 8th of May we will be discussing the two proposed resolutions that have made it to the final shortlist for 2019: “Decline in local buses” and “Don’t fear the smear”.
In preparation for the discussion, three members of The Hive WI committee team went to the Nottinghamshire Federation Headquarters in Newark, along with representatives from other Nottinghamshire WIs, to attend two presentations to get up to date with the issues.
If you want to get ahead of the debate, keep reading!
Decline in Local Buses
Public transport is essential for those who don’t or can’t drive to remain independent and able to travel.
Despite it being a lifeline for many, half of our bus routes could be “scrapped” due to a funding crisis.
Buses have already been cut by 25-30% in Nottinghamshire county-wide.
The loss of transport can lead to loneliness, isolation, loss of job opportunities, and compromised access to health care and education.
My [chemotherapy] appointments were often at 9am, so to get to Taunton hospital I would have to leave by 7am [to get the bus]. Even though I would be really tired after treatment, I faced another two-hour trip to get home again. Four hours was a good journey. It could have quite easily been a lot longer.
Where there is plenty of demand in cities, commercial companies are able to compete with each other and keep buses on the roads. In less commercially viable areas, councils have to subsidise transport. They decide whether or not to keep funding buses or to cut them.
Cambridgeshire actually cut every non-commercial bus service, a decision which has left many people unable to get to work, college, or incur additional travel costs that they may struggle to afford.
There is a massive difference in Nottingham’s city centre where bus routes are largely commercial, but, as expert David Wright told us, “in villages like Retford there is no way those services would be commercial. They need to bring in £450 a day for it to work. If you think how much a single bus ticket costs and how many passengers you’d need, it’s just not going to happen.”
In rural areas, there may be a disparity between the number of passengers needed to keep bus services profitable compared to how important buses actually are to the people who do use and rely on them.
Lots of people are now in the situation where they do not have access to any public transport at all and are forced to rely on expensive taxis or beg neighbours for lifts.
Big companies may have thousands of buses on the roads, but regional companies may have hundreds or even just tens. This means that bus stops can be miles apart from each other, and cutting buses back only makes the problem worse as they become less frequent and less convenient to use, which in turn puts people off using them – if not even preventing them from using them altogether.
Cutting buses creates a downward spiral. People are put off using buses once they’ve been cut as they are less frequent and bus routes may change. Unfamiliar routes are especially off-putting to older passengers or those with mobility issues, anxiety, or autism.
In addition to the effect on people, cuts to buses also affects our planet.
By reducing CO2 levels, buses slow down climate change. This is essential if we have any hope in averting a global environmental catastrophe. Friends of the Earth reports how “findings show that at least a 20% reduction in car journeys is necessary” to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere, adding that this is true “even with a faster switch to electrics cars and a more rapid decarbonisation of the electricity grid.”
This means that we urgently need an increased access to environmentally friendly busses, not less.
- Saving buses relates to several key WI campaigns: Alleviating loneliness, mental health, and climate change. It also fits in with our general ethos of keeping people active, independent, and part of the community.
- Buses are absolutely necessary for those unable to drive due to long-term illness, disability, or old age, as well as for those who cannot afford the cost of owning a car, including the initial price of driving lessons.
- People need buses to get to jobs, social events, and medical appointments – including accessing cervical smear tests (see the next resolution below!).
Are there any drawbacks?
Yes. Councils have limited financial resources. Cutting buses means that they can spend money on other things, and funding buses may mean making cuts elsewhere.
What can we do?
- One of the best ways to keep buses on the road is to use them. We can save what is already there by using buses ourselves and by encouraging others to use them also. If buses are abundant where you are, you can campaign by celebrating what you already have. Cars are good for some things but, as we were told in Newark, “if you want to go to town, use the bus”.
- Putting pressure on councils works as they have power over what cuts to make in their area. We can tell councils what buses mean to us and our community to get them to take notice.
- The NFWI could work with Campaign for Better Transport and the Local Government Association to call on the Government to provide more funding to local authorities for the provision of bus services.
‘There used to be a bus every hour. Now we hardly leave the house’ by Anna Bawden for The Guardian
Don’t Fear The Smear
Smear tests currently prevent 70% of cervical cancer deaths thanks to early detection, which is equivalent to 5,000 lives a year. However, that percentage could be as high as 83% if every woman who is eligible for a test attends her screening.
The death of Jade Goody in 2009 brought wide-spread attention to cervical cancer screenings, and clinics saw an increase of nearly 500,000 women turning up for smear tests as a result.
Jade Goody saved my life. When she passed away, it really made me sit up and take notice that I had been putting off going to my appointment. If not for Jade, I would not have been reminded to book in. I don’t know how long I would have left it. I certainly was not expecting this smear test to save my life.Hayley Prince
Unfortunately, the so-called “Jade Goody effect” is reportedly past its time.
There has been a steady decrease of 3.5% attendance for screenings since 2011, with the lowest attendance being seen in women between 25 and 29. Only 62% of women in this age group attend screenings, despite the fact that it is the under 35s who are most likely to suffer from cervical cancer.
In fact, a recent BBC report states that “only eight surgeries met the 80% uptake target” and that the “level of variation” between GP practices was of “concern”. In some areas the uptake is as low as 50%.
This is a the lowest attendance has been in 20 years.
I’m not even sure why [I didn’t go for my smear test]. I think it was a mix of embarrassment and fear. I told my friends I had missed my smear and they pressured me until I booked to have one. To remove the tumour I have had to have a radical hysterectomy. This has taken away my chance to be a mother again, which I so desperately wanted.Jessica Milburn
Public Health England cites several reasons why women might be missing their appointments:
- Anxiety about both the results of the test and the actual procedure itself
- Appointment times
- Unaware of screenings, or being unaware that they are at risk of cancer
- Cultural or language barriers
- No female sample-takers being available
- Lack of understanding of HPV and the role it plays in cervical cancer.
The Women’s Equality party also asserted in a Twitter thread that the “government ad campaign has targeted women’s embarrassment about their bodies ” and that “cuts of up to 36% for specialist sexual health services since 2014” could be a significant contributing factor as to why fewer women are attending screenings.
However, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says that their surveys show that “eight out of 10 who have delayed or failed to attend a test” due to embarrassment.
The reasons as to why women are missing appointments is likely to be complex and multifaceted, including both personal reasons as well as reasons relating to the running of the healthcare system itself.
The trust is currently working with 500 beauty salons to encourage beauty therapists to ask customers if they have booked a cervical screening when they come for a bikini wax.
Home testing kits might also be an solution to this problem, and is currently being trialled in north and east London. Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Trust, told the BBC, “We have been calling for this for a long time and believe this could be a game-changer in regards to access to screening. Introduction of self sampling will be of enormous benefit to many people, including survivors of sexual violence and women with a physical disability. Other countries are already seeing very positive results of HPV self-sampling, with those who have delayed attending for many years choosing to take the test. It is now crucial that this pilot moves forward quickly to ensure we are not left behind in our vision of eliminating cervical cancer.”
The Government and NHS is also putting energy into promoting cervical screenings among female patients, with a special focus on what the process involves and how potentially life-saving they are.
The Government event launched its own advertising campaign run by Public Health England in March 2019. The BBC reports that the campaign deliberately avoids using the term “smear test” in case women find it off putting and instead favours the term “cervical screening”.
The campaign shows how cervical screening is a vital preventative test which can identify potentially harmful cells and treat them before they have a chance to develop into cancer, giving us the opportunity to stop cancer before it starts.Anne Mackie
Some very encouraging news is that, thanks to the HPV vaccine, cervical pre-cancer rates are now down by 88%. Those who have not received the vaccine are protected thanks to herd immunity. HPV causes 99% of cervical cancers. In Canada, uninfected women are offered the vaccine when they attend their screenings to give them immunity.
Cervical cancer is one cancer we can all stop. Cell mutations on the cervix can detected before they become cancer, which is why keeping attendance up for screenings is essential for saving lives, as well as saving thousands of women from preventable and invasive cancer treatments.
- Attendance is now at its lowest point in 20 years, with the most at-risk group being the least likely to attend screenings.
- Reasons for missed appointments are likely to be varied. Nevertheless, these screenings save lives and must be promoted as a priority heath-check for women.
- Smear tests currently prevent 70% of cervical cancer deaths, but this percentage is about 13% lower than what it could be.
Are there any drawbacks?
There are no draw backs to attending screenings or promoting them, however, because the NHS and Government are putting a lot of energy into promoting the cause, WI members might think it is better to invest their own energy elsewhere.
Cervical screening is at its lowest point but is predicted to improve and has plenty of media coverage and attention from the Government, while the cuts to buses is predicted to get significantly worse and there is little coverage in the media.
Home testing kits might also become mainstream in a few years.
At the presentations in Newark, it was quite rightly pointed out that some women may be missing screenings due to a lack of public transport!
As the Women’s Equality Party points out, cuts to sexual health care must not be overlooked.
Finally, the campaign name Don’t Fear The Smear is catchy but might very quickly become outdated as the vernacular moves from “smear test” to “screenings”.
What can we do?
- We can talk to other WI members as well as encouraging local beauty salons to talk to their clients. We can make displays for GP surgeries to promote screenings.
- On a national level, the NFWI can build the evidence base as to why some women do not attend screenings to help inform regional and local initiatives to tackle the problem. Alongside expert organisations, the NFWI could push for improvements in care that are known to increase the uptake in cervical screenings.