The culmination of losing a family friend to cervical cancer, hearing attendance rates for cervical screenings had fallen to over a twenty year low and receiving my invitation to attend sparked a motivation to get involved and do something.
As a freelance designer, passionate about women’s health and supporting women, I decided I wanted to use design in a way that could impact social change, to create an independent project that could make a difference to women.
Looking through the booklet that accompanied the cervical screening invitation letter, I was shocked that only two images were used within the 16 pages of information. In today’s visual world where information is scanned, scrolled and flicked through so quickly, I was disappointed that the booklet was mostly a text document containing only two visual diagrams.
When my 11 year old son saw me reading the booklet, he asked what it was. He sat down next to me and I told him about cervical screenings and showed him the booklet. On seeing the diagrams his face went white. He was alarmed and shocked by this information. I explained that, yes, it was uncomfortable but that it only lasted a few minutes. It was his reaction and the former PSHE teacher in me that focused my energies into developing an awareness campaign.
I engrossed myself in research papers carried out by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s only cervical cancer charity. One statistic in particular stood out; that 1 in 3 women aged 25-29 years are skipping cervical screening appointments compared to 1 in 4 for all eligible women aged 25-64 years.
Another piece of research from Jo’s Trust titled ‘Barriers to attendance for 25-29 year olds’ highlighted body image and embarrassment as two key issues that women give for not attending cervical screening appointments.
Armed with knowledge from national research and one-to-one interviews with eligible women, I decided to create an awareness campaign targeted at this first intake of 25-29 year olds, addressing the barriers to attendance of body image and embarrassment. As an independent campaign, it would speak from the public to the public, differing from other campaigns who have a professional health background. Social Media seemed the perfect platform as it’s where this age group spend their free time and consume information.
Using the statistics gathered from the research, I created a series of infographics to show the current situation of cervical screenings in England. I launched the campaign locally on International Women’s Day 2019 receiving lots of support and engagement from local businesses and individuals. These posts were shared numerous times as they are a great way to get information across in an easy to understand manner. Businesses such as nurseries shared the graphics offering a free hour of childcare to attend a cervical screening, as too did beauty salons offering free bikini waxes and sexual health professionals reinforcing the message that nurses don’t mind how your body looks, it’s just important to attend.
Building from this initial success I began working on how to incorporate National Cervical Screening Awareness Week within the campaign. I’d been inspired by the work of the Sara Corbett and the Craftivist Collective and thought this way of getting a message across in a gentle and kind manner was perfect for the sensitive issue of cervical screenings. Trialled through the craft group I was a member of, I organised a pop-up craftivism event to make mini pairs of fabric pants, ready to ‘drop in a public place’ during the following week, National Cervical Screening Awareness Week.
I also shared the information on social media attracting many people who wanted to join in remotely using downloadable templates and instructions (available here). It was amazing to see the support and creativity of others wanting to spread this important message. Photos of the pants in situ were shared with #weareallsmearready and others found them in public places and re-shared them again too. This is something I would to continue every year for National Cervical Screening Awareness Week.
Having spoken on local radio and to many who attended the event, I realised there were many misconceptions around the issue of smear tests. For example, if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to attend smear test appointments, that the appointments are every three years and even that smear tests and cervical screenings are the same procedure.
This has lead to me wanting to get smear test education on the secondary school curriculum, linking it with the HPV vaccine programme, delivered in Year 8, to now include boys as well as girls. I’d like to see high quality teaching materials to help educate secondary pupils on the importance of smear tests and their role in cancer prevention.
If you’d like to get involved, such as sharing a smear test story via a 1-2minute video to be included as part of the resource pack, please get in touch! Together we can be smear test teachers and help educate and empower the next generation. Watch this space as the campaign grows…