A charity founder has been given a Pride of Birmingham award for her voluntary work to tackle the taboo surrounding female health issues in marginalised communities.
Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh presented Neelam Heera, Business Development Executive in the personal injury department at law firm FBC Manby Bowdler and founder of women’s health charity ‘Cysters’, with a Special Recognition award in a glittering ceremony at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall (March 26).
It was one of two regional events of the Pride of Britain Awards that celebrate the extraordinary achievements of people and Neelam could be one of the finalists for the national awards that will be held in the Autumn.
Neelam set up Cysters in 2015 to breakdown some of the cultural barriers in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities that exist around women’s health issues, in particular gynaecological and mental health problems, following her own health experiences.
She has already received a Points of Light Award and a personal letter from Prime Minister Theresa May praising her work and is due to visit 10 Downing Street later this year. However Neelam has also been on the receiving end of much trolling and online abuse due to the work around sexual health, with many believing open conversation around sex and healthy relationships are a cultural taboo.
Neelam said: “I founded ‘Cysters’ in 2015 to combat some of the misconceptions around reproductive health following my own diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome. I discovered that gynaecological health was a taboo subject within BAME communities due to cultural beliefs, which can have a detrimental impact on women’s health.
“To receive such a prestigious award is a real honour, especially to be recognised alongside so many other worthy winners.”
As the charity’s founder, Neelam maintains an active online support group and delivers workshops with faith-based groups, the community and medical professionals. She recently spoke at the Parliamentary Launch of the British Sikh Report 2018 about the effects of reproductive illnesses on mental health. She was also most recently named in Birmingham’s 30 under 30 by Birmingham Live, due to her on-going community work.
Some of the more notable achievements of Cysters include,
- Producing a report on Cervical Screening following consultations, focus groups and interviews with over 80% BAME women. This led to creating the Cysters Smears Awareness events across the Midlands. Culturally sensitive programs, within the grassroots community speaking about the importance of having a smear test.
- Chai and Chats, peer lead support groups. Since this award there are now plans to replicate these across Manchester and London. The importance of meetings like this is to ease to social isolation of having such debilitating conditions. These sessions also promote self care and listening skills.
- Our Cysters – Period Poverty Programme, working with Schools in the Handsworth Area to provide them access to menstrual products with dignity. It also opens up the conversation around menstrual health and wellbeing in these schools. Cysters continued to work alongside the Handsworth Association of Schools to work on a programme to highlight any issues on concerns within the schools. As the government are going to supplying High Schools from September onwards, they will continue to support primary schools and also extend services to other marginalized communities. The programme also distributes these menstrual products to local homeless charities.
- Cysters Youth Board – Statistics show that there are not enough women in Leadership Positions, particularly in Birmingham. So Cysters created a Youth Board, to be involved in the strategic growth of Cysters, create and co-ordinate their own projects, and become the next generation of health advocates.
More information about Cysters can be found at www.cysters.org.