The Prime Minister has today, 27 November, recognised Neelam Heera, from Birmingham, for tackling the taboo of women’s reproductive health in marginalised communities.
Neelam is the founder of ‘Cysters’, a charity that is removing cultural barriers in BAME communities surrounding women’s health issues. Neelam suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis from the age of 18 and realised that talking about gynaecological health issues can still be a taboo in Asian & BAME communities. She decided to tackle this and start conversations with marginalised communities so others could make informed decisions about their reproductive health. She started ‘Chai and Chat’ informal group sessions where women could discuss their experiences and find emotional support and launched a ‘Cysters Smear’ campaign which dispels myths about cervical screenings, in order to help increase the uptake of cervical smears. Neelam maintains an active online group that has over 1,000 followers and delivers workshops with faith-based groups and medical professionals. She recently spoke at the Parliamentary Launch or the British Sikh Report 2018 about the effects of reproductive illnesses on mental health.
Neelam is the latest recipient of the Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.
In a personal letter to Neelam, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“Your work founding ‘Cysters’ is giving women from Asian backgrounds a safe space to discuss their experiences of struggling with gynaecological health issues. You should feel tremendously proud of breaking down cultural taboos to ensure women can access emotional support and vital medical treatment.”
“To be a recipient of a Points of Light Award is an honour, for which I am truly humbled and would like to thank the Prime Minister for the recognition. I founded the charity ‘Cysters’ in 2015 as a way to combat some of the misconceptions around reproductive health. I felt that issues around women’s reproductive & mental health can often be trivialised by healthcare professionals and sexualised by the BAME community due to cultural beliefs, having a detrimental impact on their health.
“What started as a social media campaign to vent these frustrations, grew into a support group for individuals with similar stories, to a registered charity working directly with the community and giving a platform for younger women to become their own health advocates through our youth board. The growth has been organic and reflective of the community needs whilst being cultural sensitive and age appropriate.
“I sincerely hope that our work educating women and the community about reproductive and mental health will help them make informed choices around their treatment options and healthcare, as well as providing a platform for women to be heard.”
Neelam is the 1059th winner of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA. Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.
Regardless of whether it’s a doctor restoring local monuments in her free time, a father teaching young people life skills, or a local musician giving a voice to lonely people, the Points of Light award honours shining examples of volunteering across the UK.