This year marks the centenary of some women getting the right to vote and I am proud to have been elected as the 419th female MP.
Before entering Parliament, I worked as a full time cancer research nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital for over 20 years, specialising in the field of breast cancer research. My mother was also a nurse and improving our health service has always been an issue close to my heart and is what motivated me to become an MP and add my voice to those that could instil change.
I care passionately about healthcare, and I am proud of what this Government has done for female healthcare, bringing to the forefront some health issues that have often been stigmatised and people have shied away from discussing.
We are visibly moving the dial and breaking down barriers. Earlier this year, I was happy to hear the Prime Minister speaking at Prime Ministers Questions encouraging young girls not to put off going for a smear test. It is through these open and public discussions that young girls and women can have the confidence and tools to talk about their health. Cancer has touched most people’s lives in some way or another and almost everyone has sadly been saddled with this disease- whether themselves or watching a loved one suffer.
We know that smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers, so the fact that so many young women are missing these appointments is highly concerning. If we can prevent diseases in the first place, and intervene at the earliest possible stage, then the NHS can focus on what it does best: treating people who are sick. This government is working to help young women take responsibility for their health, and we have provided a roll out of the National Cervical Screening programme for all women between 25 and 64 years, with all girls having the opportunity to get the HPV vaccine free from the NHS from age 12 to 18. HPV will be the primary screen test for women from 2019 and this change will see more cancers being prevented and fewer women needing further tests and treatment.
Similarly, having heard harrowing tales from a number of my constituents, describing their experiences of vaginal mesh implants and the pain that they now sadly find themselves in, I welcomed the news that a review will be carried out into the use of vaginal mesh implants, as well as the use of pregnancy test drug Primodos and epilepsy drug sodium valproate. It was vital that we addressed this issue with so many women suffering after undergoing a procedure that was supposed to improve their quality of life. This is why I am proud to be a female MP and to help champion these campaigns to work to better the lives of women and girls.
And it’s not just domestically that the UK has been improving women’s health. Five years ago the UK Department for International Development committed to spend £35million towards ending Female Genital Mutilation in a generation, more than any other country. In doing so, we have shifted the global conversation around FGM and brought us close to seeing an end to this extreme violation. Thanks to the work of this government, and campaigners here in the UK, the issue has climbed the political and news agenda. We have seen FGM laws being strengthened in the UK so that it is no longer simply illegal to practice FGM in the UK, it is illegal to take a child abroad in order to subject her to FGM elsewhere. These are huge developments and shows that as a society our care for women’s health stretches beyond our own borders, we truly want to better the lives of girls and women around the world.
Today, on International Women’s Day it is a chance for us to reflect back and champion the great things that this government has done for women’s health, but also acknowledge that there are still difficult conversations that we need to have and that we continue to encourage women to talk to their friends, mothers and daughters about their health.
Maria Caulfield is the Conservative MP for Lewes and party vice chair for women