This year has been another successful year for Viva la Vulva, the student political action group founded by UCL medical students and staff only two years ago. With the aim of addressing the big issues affecting women’s health across the globe, this group of students has played an important role in raising the level of discourse amongst UCLMS’s student body by organising panel events and film screenings, as well as engaging with young people in UCL’s local community.
Our first major event of the year was a panel discussion about the role of conscientious objection in reproductive health care, with speakers from a variety of organisations such as bpas (Britain’s largest abortion provider), the Catholic Medical Association, and even our very own Chair, Sean Rees. This event allowed students to explore the difficult area of conscientious objection in health care and the specific problems it poses for women accessing the reproductive health care to which they are entitled. When discussing the role of a doctor’s conscience in the context of abortion provision, it is important to remember that it is not only those with objections that are acting according to their consciences; abortion providers recognise that without safe, free and legal access women would have to turn to alternative and unsafe methods of abortion that would put their health at risk, so the work and advocacy of organisations like bpas form only part of the comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare that women rightfully expect.
Other major events included a film screening of India’s Daughter with the director, Leslee Udwin, taking questions from the audience and facilitating a discussion around gender-based violence. Given the stories of the killing of Samia Shahid in the media recently, it is more important than ever to raise awareness amongst students and the general public to help galvanise a concerted effort to end violence against women and girls.
Viva la Vulva also put on the play ‘Rites’ during UCL’s international women’s day programme of events in March and at a Camden Secondary school. This moving play, directed by Year 4 student Polly Cohen gave audiences a fascinating insight into the ethical and cultural complexities of FGM. The group also did some sterling work on FGM with the domestic abuse charity Hestia.
Viva la Vulva members returned to Westminster Kingsway College to deliver sessions on a range of topics such as abortion, sexuality and contraception, with extremely positive feedback form both students and teachers. This work, as well as the work in engaging medical students in women’s health issues, was recognised by UCLU with an invitation to the Union Awards ceremony where Viva la Vulva came runner-up in the “Student-led Project of the Year” Award! A huge thank you to all of our members for their hard work over the last year, and welcome to our new Chairs, Sean Rees and Maira Vera-Poblete.