This week I watched Three Girls – the BBC drama on the Rochdale abuse case. It’s harrowing but important viewing. It tells the tragedy of three girls – just three of many thousands in this country apparently – and how a terrible combination of poverty, family breakdown and lack of aspiration led to human exploitation and racial divide. It also shows, shockingly, how the authorities – the people whom we have entrusted with power – for years did not have the courage or the empathy do anything about it.
I’ve always been passionate about social justice and I’ve never been afraid to speak up for what I think is wrong. A couple of months ago my colleague and friend the amazing Anya Sizer, who works for the national charity Fertility Network UK, sent me a photo. We happened to be at the same school together although we were a few years apart and never knew each other at the time. But she’d found a newspaper cutting amongst her things of me leading a school demonstration about the redeployment of our teachers as a result of Government cuts. I’ve pasted the grainy photo she sent me below – apologies for quality – I’m the one on the second left, mouth open with the megaphone.
These days my mouth and megaphone are primarily directed at the subject of fertility, infertility and assisted conception. Out of my own personal tragedy it has become my vocation. But I know I’m not alone because nearly everyday I get messages from people telling me of their own pain and questioning why infertility is still such a taboo. I blame the authorities for this situation too. They’ve not done enough to acknowledge that this is a silent but growing epidemic that needs to be understood and addressed. They’re steadily cutting IVF on the NHS forcing desperate people to pay for treatment that they can’t afford and to go abroad where regulations aren’t as rigorous as they are here. (Which ironically can lead to problems that then have to be paid for by the NHS). They’ve failed to put in place proper measures to help people with the devastating impact the struggle to conceive has on your mental health, whatever the outcome. And on top of all this they’re not ensuring that the next generation have all the information they need about their fertility so they are in a better position to make informed decisions about how they want to live their lives.
Watching programmes like Three Girls fuels my passion to do something to make this world a better place. That’s why I’m committed to bringing about change in the one area I know best. Next year my festival – Fertility Fest – will be back aiming to tackle that long list of things. We’ve just been offered a grant from the Wellcome Trust to run two more festivals and in 2018 will be taking it to London, Birmingham and Barcelona! And then in 2020 I’m planning my third (and final) huge fundraising challenge to raise awareness of what it feels to be an adult or a child without the family you long for. So I’m afraid this means you’ve got three more years of me and my megaphone.
But to finish my blog today, I just want to honour two women: Sara Rowbotham and Margaret Oliver who did all that they could – despite being ignored by the authorities – to ensure that those three girls in Rochdale got the justice they deserved. I’d have gone on any school demonstration for them because this world needs girls who have the courage to speak truth to power.