‘Wyse Weemin’ in the Causeway with Can Can calling!

Ballymoney women Ursula,  Carolyn and Amy. INBM47-14S
Ballymoney women Ursula, Carolyn and Amy. INBM47-14S

People are getting the chance to decide how Big Lottery money is spent in their own community!

Based in Ballymoney, CAN is hoping to attract funding for a health education programme, ‘Women Wise’ if they are successful in the UTV People’s Millions on Tuesday 25th November.

The funding would be provided by the Big Lottery to enable CAN to run two series of workshops to provide accessible health education to both women with and without learning disabilities in the Causeway area.

The Women Wise programme will be mobile and will cover sessions looking at physical health including cancer awareness, mental health and emotional health as well as issues such as keeping safe on and offline and good decision making. They will bring in experts such as the Family Planning Association, other voluntary organisations and community associations to make sure the information is accessible and sessions are interactive.

The telephone number for voting isn’t released until 9am on the morning of the Head to Head but you can get the number on www.peoplesmillions.org.uk or in the Daily Mirror.

Knowing where to go to get information about our health as women is something a lot of us take for granted. Women with learning disabilities die, on average, 20 years sooner than people without learning disabilities.

As a user-led charity of people with learning disabilities in the Causeway area, CAN are unsurprised by this. Janet Schofield, Director of CAN said: “Unfortunately whilst we were shocked at some of the headlines from the report, the findings didn’t surprise us. We know from experience that women with learning disabilities do not have the same access to information about their health or health care as women without learning disabilities do.

“Too many of our women with learning disabilities have never had the chance to talk about their body – no one ever explained periods to them, told them why they bled or talked to them about contraception or keeping safe when having sex.

Ursula Campbell who is a women with a learning disability herself and a self-advocate, is extremely passionate about the topic. Ursula said “Some of my friends don’t see their children because they were removed into care shortly after they were born. They didn’t get advice around contraception and making safe choices and fell pregnant as a result. When some of my friends had their children they were taken off them and were told they were ‘unfit’ rather than supported to be good mums. Very few were told why this was, no one talked to them losing their babies or helped them to accept this….any time they brought it up, staff or family told them “Not to be upsetting themselves” and sent them away. Few have a photo of their babies to cherish and even less have any contact even now! I have the right to information around safe choices and the right to be a mum when I choose the time is right for me – it’s important I get the right information and support to make my choices at a time that’s right for me!”

Ursula continued: “CAN works with ladies of all ages and when some of our ladies went through menopause or ‘the change’, no one explained this to them and some (struggling with hormonal changes and mood swings) were diagnosed as ‘having difficult behaviour’ and were sent to hospital for treatment – again, no one considered that this might be a ‘normal’ thing for a lady going through menopause or took the time to explain this to them.”

A lot of women with learning disabilities have poor levels of literacy and many are unable to use computers, never mind navigate through the plethora of bad information there is on the internet. Many family members are reluctant to discuss ‘personal matters’ leaving it up to schools (who have limited resources) to ‘educate’ their young people and few struggle to bring up the subject of sexuality and relationships. Quite often it’s fear and a lack of awareness that stops families discussing the issues…

With budget cuts, further limitations on resources and a lack of awareness, too often it’s the women with learning disabilities in the community who get forgotten!

Janet Schofield explained: “This is something which is desperately needed within our communities. It will bring women from all ages and backgrounds together to learn about keeping themselves well. The sessions, whilst serious in content, will have an element of fun and most of all, will provide opportunities for shared learning, friendship and peer support to some of the most vulnerable people out there!”

“If you have ever experienced health worries or concerns and understand how difficult it can be to get the right information and advice, give a thought to those in our community who really struggle! Please…as a daughter, mother, sister or friend, pick up the phone on the 25th and VOTE for Women Wise!”

For more information, or if you are interested in helping CAN campaign for votes, contact Janet Schofield at CAN on 02827669030.

* CAN (charity no XR23013) are based at 20 Seymour Street, Ballymoney. They operate 3 x Base projects in Ballymoney, Ballymena and Coleraine, enabling people with learning disabilities to access social and leisure activities and run several social enterprises, providing work-based training and opportunities for people with learning disabilities. CAN are delighted to be Local Women’s Charity of the Year 2015.