Diane Munday was the General Secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association in the 1960s which helped make the 1967 Abortion Act possible. This piece was originally published by the Independent.
Veteran women’s rights campaigner Diane Munday recalls the stark reality of backstreet abortions in the UK
Diane Munday didn’t know what an abortion was until she was in her early twenties. But the need to quickly and safely terminate a pregnancy became a very personal reality for her when she sought out an abortion in 1961, while it was still illegal in the UK. Six decades later at the age of 86, she has made an indelible mark on British society as a pioneering campaigner for women’s rights.
“It was illegal. People were sent to prison for having and carrying out abortions. It was never a word that was said. But having an abortion was a common experience for many. But I didn’t even know what it was to think about it,” she tells The Independent.
Munday was first confronted with the stark reality of abortions when her local dressmaker – a common profession in the Sixties – suddenly died. The young woman’s mother quietly confided in Munday’s mother that she had lost her life after having a backstreet abortion. But what caused her death was never spoken about publicly. To this day, Munday doesn’t know how the dressmaker died.
Diane Munday in her home office in the 1960s
“It was never talked about. All I knew was that she died,” she says.
The dressmaker was one of an estimated 100,000 women in the UK who were forced to seek out an unsafe, illegal abortion, before the Abortion Act 1967 came into force.
“Women would drink bleach to try to induce miscarriage. They would have very hot baths, or move heavy furniture, or try to do it themselves with a needle or a crochet hook,” says Munday.
As a result, an underground network of backstreet abortionists ran quietly across the country. Some of them, says Munday, became involved by force. It was no unknown for women who had carried out abortions for their close friends and family to be blackmailed by desperate pregnant women who threatened to report them to the police if they didn’t help them, too. Like women who had abortions, those who carried out the procedure illegally could be sent to prison.
“These people were unskilled. Some might have had a bit of nursing experience or had worked in a hospital, or carried out procedures for a friend or daughter,” says Munday.
Aged 86, Diane Munday continues to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion
The shame attached to having an abortion meant that, like the dressmaker, women’s deaths were covered up. To save grieving families from being questioned by the police, doctors would lie on death certificates, stating instead that women died of miscarriages. And hospitals would draft in extra staff on Fridays in A&E departments across the UK to deal with the influx of women being harmed by abortions they sought out on payday.
After the tragic death of the dressmaker, Munday put abortion to the back of her mind. Until she got married and had three children in less than four years. When she fell pregnant with a fourth child in 1961, she simply couldn’t fathom having another baby. Luckily for Munday, she was wealthy enough to visit a Harley Street physician in London who agreed to diganose her as mentally fit to have another child: a privilege she acknowledges simply wasn’t an option for poorer women. The procedure – which would nowadays cost thousands of pounds – was carried out quickly and safely under general anaesthetic. Realising how lucky she was to be alive, Munday pledged to fight for abortion to be legalised. She would go on to become the general secretary and vice-chair of the Abortion Law Reform Association.
As Munday braved being ostracised by her community to campaign for abortion rights, she was surprised by how people responded. Most people, she found, supported her.
“One of my first experiences of going out and speaking about abortion was at a local women’s rights meeting. In the tea break woman came up to me one after another to tell me they had an abortion. They would say ‘I’ve never told anyone before but I had an abortion during the depression in the ‘30s’ or ‘we couldn’t afford another child so I had an abortion’.”
But the red paint splatted across her car, which she was told symbolised the blood of children she had murdered, proved that legalising abortion would be tough.
“Some people shunned me publicly. A shop in the village refused to serve me because the shop-keeper said it was tainted money and accused me of doing abortions on the kitchen table.”
That vocal minority continues to stand in the way of progression, argues Munday.
And asked to describe the stigma attached to abortion in the 1960s, Munday is quick to answer: “there still is stigma.” That’s despite the fact that one in three women will seek out an abortion, and 95 per cent will not regret it.
“I’m very sad that women still feel the stigma. I think this has been one success of the fanatical anti-abortion lobby in this country. With their talk of women murdering their babies they’ve made women who feel it’s all right to have an abortion feel that it’s not. But it isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
Now, the octogenarian remains vocal and committed to seeing abortion laws modernised. Despite being a nation ahead of the curve in legalising abortion, Munday says the UK’s laws are now archaic compared with the rest of Europe as two doctors must give their permission before a woman can have the procedure. She looks towards Canada and northern states of Australia, where abortion has been decriminalised, as examples to follow.
“I’ve always believed that it should be a woman’s decision to have an abortion. I find the current laws appalling. We need to give women the power, not two doctors who might have never seen the woman before, will probably never see her again and know nothing about her life.
“In the 1960s, it was the best we could get. But the laws should have been changed sooner. 50 years ago if anyone had told me that I’d still be campaigning now I’d say they were stupid.”
To Munday, valuing life and giving women easy access to abortions are inextricably linked.
“People are too important to be born willy nilly because someone the contraceptive broke or because they had unprotected sex. It is irresponsible to bring a person into the world just because they have been conceived.”
Clare Murphy is the Director of External Affairs at bpas. This piece was originally published in the International Business Times.
ONS figures show teenage conception rates are at the lowest level since 1969 – that’s cause for celebration.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) starkly illustrate what those of us working in women’s reproductive health services see every day –conceptions among teenagers falling dramatically as rates rise among older women.
The fact that teenage pregnancy is at its lowest ever level since records began is a cause for celebration. Any young woman who finds herself pregnant and who wishes to continue that pregnancy needs support – not stigma. But the fact that so many young women are able to avoid pregnancy in the first place – and can choose to end that pregnancy when mistakes happen – is testament to the intense effort that has gone into improving young people’s access to high quality contraception and abortion services alongside better (with room for improvement) sex education in schools.
The decline also speaks to broader social shifts – and opportunities. It may be a cliché but, yes, aspiration is the best form of contraception. When young women can hope for more and see a way to achieve it, early motherhood does not need to be their only avenue to a sense of fulfilment and self-worth. This is good news.
But before we get too cheerful, remember: When it comes to women’s reproductive choices, there always has to be something we are doing wrong. As hand wringing over “gymslip mums” has declined hand-in-hand with the number of people who even know what a gymslip is, a fresh cause for consternation has emerged – the older mother.
Women are waiting longer to start their families. The average age of first-time motherhood is now 30. A significant proportion of women starting their families are now 35 or older. As we start our families later, inevitably we complete them later, and this in part at least explains the surge we’ve seen in the numbers of women giving birth in their 40s. Conceptions among this age group have increased dramatically, although some of those will be accidental and unwanted pregnancies that will end in abortion.
You don’t need a degree to work out why women are waiting longer to start their families – but degrees play a role. The increasing entry of women into higher education, the time it takes to complete that education, establish a career and find a home are all factors. We take the decision to have children extremely seriously – we expect to bring them into a situation of financial security – and above all, perhaps, within the parameters of a loving, stable relationship – and it’s hard to put a time-frame on the time it takes to find the right person to do that with.
Yet women are increasingly warned they are waiting too long – that they risk leaving it too late. There have been regular calls for fertility education to be incorporated into the already chocka school curriculum – with suggestions that young women be told that if they want three children they need to be off the starting blocks at 23.
Women know fertility declines with age – in fact, in our experience of advising women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, there is a tendency to underestimate fertility rather than the reverse. We see more women over the age of 35 than we see women under 20, and often it is fertility misconceptions that have played a role in an unwanted pregnancy.
What’s concerning is also the incidence of ‘fertility testing’ – women so anxious about messages about infertility they are desperate to see if they can get pregnant – then not in a position to carry the pregnancy to term when they find that, in fact, they can.
Of course fertility declines with age. But it does not decline as fast or as furiously as we might be led to believe, indeed your chances of conceiving within a year in your late 30s are not that far off what they were in your late 20s.
The issue is more that if you do have fertility problems the window narrows to resolve them through assisted reproduction – which carries a high failure rate at any age that progressively worsens the older you get. It is very sad to see the devastating cuts that are being made to IVF services, with some areas decommissioning them altogether.
The risk of complications increase with pregnancy as we get older, as do the risks of chromosomal abnormalities. But these risks must be kept in perspective. Self-evidently, as the figures show, women are delivering healthy pregnancies well into their late 30s and even early 40s.
Women of reproductive age are under immense pressure today. Told not to leave it too late, while also increasingly told they must be ‘fit for pregnancy’ before contemplating a conception. Not too fat, not too thin – and not a drop of the hard stuff having passed your lips for many months. If pregnancy must be carefully planned and prepared for – from physical fitness to financial good health – it’s no wonder that women are waiting.
There is of course more we can do to enable women to better combine motherhood and other things they may want to do with their lives – affordable childcare, affordable housing, and for some women this may make the difference between waiting and making a decision to try for a baby. But what women really deserve is evidence-based information on which to make their reproductive decisions and trust in their ability to understand risk – and decide what is right for them. In turn, we should understand and support those choices as best we can.
Wendy Savage is the co-ordinator or Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion. This letter was originally published in the Guardian.
We congratulate Diana Johnston for introducing her bill (New bill to challenge UK’s Victorian-era abortion law, 14 March) and are delighted it was passed by 172 to 142 votes. As a 10-minute rule bill, it has no chance of becoming law, but it is important in starting the debate about whether, after 50 years, it is time to revisit the 1967 Abortion Act. It is time to treat abortion like any other medical procedure, and control it with regulation and the GMC. It is wrong that three women have been jailed or had a suspended sentence, and that doctors responding to women’s requests may face criminal prosecution. Many people (and even some gynaecologists) do not realise abortion is a criminal offence unless it conforms with the conditions set out in the Act. Up to 80% of people polled believe the woman should make the decision in consultation with her doctor and 90% of a random sample of gynaecologists surveyed in 2015 said that the woman should make the decision to end her pregnancy. It is time for women to be treated as autonomous adults capable of making their own decisions about continuing a pregnancy, a view that the some tabloid newspapers seem incapable of understanding.
Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North. On 13th March 2017 she tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill which proposed the decriminalisation of abortion in England and Wales up to 24 weeks. This piece was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Decriminalisation will not mean deregulation. My Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill will take abortion out of the criminal law in England and Wales
Later today, I will present a Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament that would decriminalise abortion in England and Wales.
In this country, since the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act and subsequent amendments, women have had access to abortion up to 24 weeks gestation, provided they can obtain the signatures of two doctors and that specified conditions have been met. The conditions are rightly more stringent after 24 weeks, with abortions only allowed in exceptional cases.
However, it may surprise people to know that this Act did not change the fundamental fact that abortion remains illegal, under legislation dating back to 1861 – before women even had the right to vote.
If a woman has an abortion within 24 weeks gestation, but outside of the requirements of the 1967 Abortion Act, she is committing a criminal act punishable by up to life in prison and anyone who helps her faces the same penalty. This is the harshest criminal sentence of any country in Europe. Fifty years on from the passage of the Abortion Act, it is right that Parliament debates whether this should still be the case.
I want to be clear on what the implications of this Bill will be. Some have claimed that this Bill will allow abortions on-demand right up to birth; will allow unlicensed medical practitioners to carry out abortions; or will permit doctors to terminate pregnancies solely on the grounds of gender. Not one of these claims is true.
Examples from other countries show that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. My Bill contains three key safeguards to address these concerns.
First, my Bill intends to keep the same conditions for obtaining abortions after 24 weeks, and abortion would continue to be subject to a significant body of Parliamentary regulation and robust professional standards. As is the case now, any misconduct or professional malpractice would be dealt with through professional bodies’ disciplinary processes.
Evidence from other countries that have already decriminalised, such as Canada and some parts of Australia, shows no evidence that late-term abortions will increase. Indeed, a recent academic study from the state of Victoria, Australia suggests that there have been fewer post-24 week terminations since decriminalisation.
Second, abortions would still only be carried out only by licensed health professionals, underpinned by robust regulations set by their professional bodies. To accompany these bodies’ disciplinary rules, there are already a range of laws that protect women from unscrupulous practitioners – from Acts prohibiting unlicensed doctors from operating, to legislation criminalising the selling of prescription-only drugs without a prescription. Again, we rely on these laws for other medical procedures – yet not for abortion. We currently face a growing problem of drugs to terminate pregnancies being sold online. Mid-Victorian criminal law is not fit for purpose in this Digital Age.
To regulate abortions before 24 weeks’ gestation, Parliament can undertake an evidence-based debate about what the best provision is for women. In having this discussion, I think Parliament should be mindful of the fact that the British Medical Association has called for the two-doctor requirement up to 12 weeks’ gestation to be reviewed.
Removing the counter-productive threat of criminal punishment against vulnerable women will help create an environment more conducive to reducing incidents of unplanned pregnancies and abortions – not least medically unsafe ones.
We need better sex and relationships education and access to good quality professional healthcare – not outdated criminal penalties.
Third, my Bill will not allow for gender-specific abortions. Abortion on the grounds of gender is not one of the specified grounds for an abortion in the 1967 Abortion Act, and professional bodies, as now, will continue to prohibit this. Opponents of decriminalisation appear to argue that the only way we can apply safeguards against gender-specific abortions is to threaten all women, and all practitioners, with criminal penalties. This is clearly not a sustainable argument. The current law also does nothing to help to bring to justice those who coerce women to end wanted pregnancies, whether for reasons of gender or otherwise.
Given that it is clear that decriminalisation will not remove necessary regulations, the onus is now on those who oppose decriminalisation to justify why the criminal law should apply. I believe that it should not.
In deciding how to cast their votes later today, MPs should consider all the countries that do not apply a criminal law to abortion. In states like Canada, parts of Australia, Sweden and Luxembourg decriminalisation has not led to any of the things its critics said it would. Even the United States has not been able to apply criminal penalties ever since a Supreme Court judgement in 1973.
We need to repeal our 150-year-old laws criminalising abortion and focus on the evidence of what works in the modern context.
Bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales on Monday 13th March
Next week on 13th March, MPs will vote on a bill that would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales. Under a law passed in 1861 – before women could vote – any woman in the UK can face life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy without legal authorisation, including women who buy abortion pills online, many of whom are unaware they are committing a crime.
We trust women to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies. Ask your MP to do the same and protect women by supporting the bill. You can email your MP here. It takes just one minute.
Non-invasive prenatal testing concerns
We were extremely disappointed to read the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ recent report on non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), and in particular by the mistrust of women that seemed to permeate. NIPT offers women more accurate screening than other methods, often earlier in the pregnancy, and – crucially – without the risk of miscarriage. Nuffield’s suggestion that NIPT could increase the risk of sex-selective abortion is deeply problematic, and we wholeheartedly reject their call to restrict women’s access to their own screening results on the grounds that they may use the information to make the ‘wrong’ decisions about their pregnancies.
Women are capable of making good, ethical reproductive choices, and – as the ones who will bear the consequences – they absolutely must be trusted to do so. Their access to information that enables them to make the choices that are right for them and their families should not be restricted. Read our full statement here.
Support for women with extreme morning sickness
New research has shown that women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) are being denied effective treatment and compassionate care, leaving some with little choice but to end wanted pregnancies. A survey, conducted by Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS) alongside researchers at Plymouth University, has revealed that women are not receiving proper information about the availability of safe and effective treatment for HG, including being misled about the dangers. Just 34% of the women interviewed felt they were given sufficient information to make an informed decision about their medication and treatment.
Bpas and PSS are calling for greater investment in day units, where women with HG can receive accurate information and specialist care from trained staff, avoiding expensive hospital stays.
Sex and Relationships Education to be taught by all England’s schools
The Education Secretary Justine Greening has announced that, from September 2019, it will be compulsory for all England’s schools to offer Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Outdated SRE guidelines will also be improved, particularly to teach students about staying safe online. We were delighted to read the announcement, which follows months of campaigning by MPs and charities alike (including a Valentine’s Day open letter from End Violence Against Women Coalition). All young people deserve access to comprehensive SRE, which helps them to have happy, healthy relationships and improves sexual health outcomes.
Champions of Choice in the news
This month Diane Munday, former general secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association, wrote to the Daily Mail about abortion rights and was awarded Letter of the Week. Here is her letter in full:
“Thank you for making it very clear to women who try to end their own pregnancies (even by buying safe, readily available pills) that they risk going to prison for life. This isn’t something many people know about.
“As someone who, half a century ago, campaigned for legal abortion, I knew then that the passing of the Abortion Act 1967 did much less than needed. It only made exemptions to the Victorian law still in force which makes criminals of women who attempt to end their own pregnancies.
“To me (now a very old woman), it’s almost unbelievable that in 2017 women must get the written consent of two doctors before an intolerable pregnancy can be legally ended.
“On March 13, Parliament will discuss a Bill that seeks to decriminalise abortion. It could start the ball rolling to give British women the same rights that have been available in places such as Canada for 30 years, with no ill-effects.
“If only one in ten of the women who have had a legal abortion (thought to be about one in three) was to join me in writing to her MP saying “support the bill to decriminalise abortion”, it would be difficult for Parliament to ignore us any longer.”
Caitlin Dean is the chair of UK charity Pregnancy Sickness Support. This piece was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Mother’s Day can be a particularly big celebration for women who struggled to have children and a sad day for those who desperately want to be a mother but are unable. When we think about the challenges some women face in becoming a mother it is generally fertility issues that spring to mind and invoke sympathy among our peers. But for many women conceiving is the easy part… it is surviving pregnancy that can prove the hardest.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is a serious complication of pregnancy in which women experience extreme levels of nausea and vomiting not just for days or even weeks but for months on end. Unlike “morning sickness” which we all know to be a normal, if rather unpleasant, symptom of pregnancy, HG can be so extreme it is commonly life changing for entire families – and can be life threatening to the mother. Not only does the sickness lead to dehydration, malnutrition and a host of other physical symptoms, but the mental health impact can be profound.
Sadly, for many women, not only are the symptoms themselves traumatic and depressing but the stigma and lack of understanding about HG can be the most distressing part. It’s not uncommon for women to be told it is all in their head or that they are making a fuss! Women can lose their jobs, home and even their families over it and so it’s not surprising to hear that many women resort to terminating their wanted and tried-for baby.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Historically, HG was taken very seriously as most women with it died in early pregnancy. The only treatment then was to perform an abortion or both mum and baby would perish; although in those days abortion itself was a seriously risky procedure so most did not survive anyway. Medical developments such as IV fluids and anti-sickness medication were therefore very welcome and the death rate from HG dropped rapidly. But they developed at the same time as Freudian psychoanalytic theory and suddenly HG was “all in her head”, “an emotional rejection of their fetus” or “signs of an abusive marriage”. Women were subjected to horrific treatments of isolation and interrogation. Their sick bowls were removed and they had to clear up their own vomit. Incredibly, treatments like this were still occurring in Europe in this century!
Thankfully, things have improved recently and with the introduction of new guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ROCG) last year, many hospitals in the UK are now treating women in dedicated HG Day Units and following protocols. Far from the days of accusation and blame it is a recognised condition with its own treatment pathways and a charity to refer women to for support. Surely then everything is fine for women with HG? Not quite! Research published this month explored and compared the experiences of women treated in both hospital wards and day unit settings over the last two years and, although there was a definite improvement in the care received in day units and a 50% reduction in the number of days needed in hospital, women were still being woefully ill-treated in many places. Of eleven women who had terminated their pregnancies only one had been given all the available treatments, two had received only the very basic first line treatments and one had been given no anti-sickness medication at all. Women may not often be accused of mentally rejecting their baby any more but they still have accusations levelled at them such as one women in the research reported “I was told [the medication] would give me a deformed baby and I would regret it by a nurse in a day unit”.
As Dr Rebecca Painter, gynaecologist and maternal fetal medicine researcher in The Netherlands, has said, “HG is just emerging from the dark ages of Freudian misunderstanding. HG presents a huge burden for the small group of women who develop it, and yet we don’t understand what causes it, or what presents the best care. In fact, we haven’t yet reached agreement on what HG is!”
The reality is we don’t yet have a cure for hyperemesis gravidarum and most of the medications, while safe, are not particularly effective for many women; it’s a case of controlling the symptoms at a manageable level and as Dr Painter suggests research efforts are hampered by a lack of basic definition. But in the meantime, care should focus on support and managing side effects like dehydration and starvation, which we know from other research can actually harm the baby yet is often underappreciated or people just don’t realise. Such misinformation further adds to the lack of informed consent that is happening. If a woman is told by her doctor that the medication “may” cause harm and that not taking medication doesn’t carry any risks, “baby will take what it needs”, then her consent or refusal to treatment is based on incorrect information and far from informed. Across the participants in the survey only 34% of women felt they had been given the information necessary to make informed decisions and many reported having to find information out for themselves or educated the staff about the condition. Given that the participants were disproportionally from higher socioeconomic and educated backgrounds that is a deeply concerning finding.
Ironically the areas of care and treatment which are currently so problematic for women with HG highlighted in this research, namely staff knowledge and understanding, care and compassion and information to make informed decisions, are actually the areas most easy to improve. As important as the development of new treatments is, professional and public education is far more achievable in the immediate future and could potentially have a huge impact.
The last few years has seen a massive revival of interest in HG thanks to the efforts of a handful of international researchers, some of whom have suffered themselves. There is now cutting edge genetic research looking into the cause of HG, innovative treatments being developed to reduce the symptoms and impacts, longitudinal studies looking at the long term impact of HG and women’s voices are finally being heard.
In October 2017 International researchers from across the globe are coming together to further their efforts, showcase their work and teach the “on the ground” staff how to care for and treat this complex condition. The conference, which is a collaboration between the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Pregnancy Sickness Support and Plymouth University, will be an for healthcare professionals to get involved in research design and agenda setting, and help to spread awareness of available treatments and change attitudes towards a serious, life threatening condition for expectant mothers that is still too readily dismissed.
Ultimately, we don’t yet have a cure for HG, and we still have a long way to go to breakdown all the stigmas and difficulties women experience in accessing treatment. But in the meantime every individual can do their bit for these mothers to be who want above all to survive their pregnancy and become a mother – because compassion and validation is surely not too much to ask for a woman with a life threatening illness.
Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion. This piece was originally published in the Huffington Post.
This week something revolutionary happened. After years of effort from young people, students, parents, teachers and campaigners the Government announced its intentions to make sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory in an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill while also paving the way for further action on PSHE education in its entirety. From the age of four all children will have access to lessons that have the power to change their lives.
If you need proof of why compulsory PSHE is needed, take a glance across the Atlantic. The most powerful man in the world has repeatedly and deliberately demeaned women. “When you’re a star” he said, “they let you do it. You can do anything …Grab them by the p***y … You can do anything.” He has gloated about sexual assault and argued that objectifying 50% of the human race is exactly what the other 50% do privately, even if they pretend otherwise in public.
It’s not just Trump letting down young people; we are too. When I first started campaigning on PSHE, I came across NSPCC research showing that almost half of teenage girls believe it is acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards a female partner, while one in two boys and one in three girls believe there are some circumstances in which it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.
One schoolgirl wrote to the Everyday Sexism project saying that the boys in her school held up Page Three images, and marked girls out of 10 as they walked past. Children are subjected to advertising which suggests they’re too thin, too fat, too promiscuous, not having enough sex. The media exploit and encourage children’s insecurities – leaving many desperately insecure and constantly worried.
In 2010, 40% of 16 to 18-year-olds said they either didn’t receive lessons or information on sexual consent or didn’t know whether they did. This year a survey of more than 1,300 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) revealed that 53% of teachers were aware of pupils as young as seven sharing sexual messages and pictures. In 2015 there were 141,000 new STI diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds and 78,000 for those aged 15-19.
Being young has never been easy. Things are always changing quickly – your body, your mind, your surroundings. But the modern world offers new challenges in addition to the ones that today’s adults faced when growing up.
Good quality, age-appropriate PSHE, including SRE is vital to help children and young people address all of these challenges. It will help tackle gender inequality and gender stereotypes too, including those prevalent in much of our media and advertising. It will teach children at an appropriate age about safe sex, and consent. And it will equip the next generation with the life skills and confidence they need to thrive in a complex, interconnected world.
That’s why Justine Greening’s announcement this week is such wonderful news, and why what happens next matters so much. PSHE must now be delivered properly – and much will depend on the regulations and guidance to follow. There are some thorny questions, including around the parental ‘right’ to withdraw their children and around how faith schools will be covered. Crucially, ministers must urgently set out how they are going to provide for teacher training to make sure all children get high quality, age-appropriate sex and relationships education as part of a whole school approach to PSHE.
In the meantime PSHE campaigners should celebrate this moment. After presenting my PSHE Bill to Parliament earlier this year – and seeing the resistance of some Tory backbenchers, I’m certainly pleased. This victory shows that persistent, heartfelt campaigning from people who really care can make a difference to people’s lives. In these difficult times – where populism dominates our politics – there are shards of light piercing the darkness.