BY ANISAH ARIF
A South Asian women, who campaigns for sex and health issues for women has just been recently been praised by the Prime Minister for her work.
Neelam Heera, had received a Points of Light Award from Theresa May for tackling issues surround health which what some Asian cultures regard as ‘taboo’ subjects.
The 29-year-old founded the charity Cysters in 2015 to give women from Asian backgrounds a safe space to talk about any health issues and what the barriers are that comes with it.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has recognised now midlands based paralegal and charity founder Neelam Heera with the Points of Light award for her tireless work on women’s reproduction and mental health in marginalised communities.
Mrs 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.”
Neelam said: “I’m still in shock and taken back. I didn’t even know it existed. I’m very grateful. It makes what we do at Cysters very worth it and it almost helps us get that support from the community”.
Neelam was 18 when she was diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). After receiving the news, she was told she had to take the contraceptive pill to help regularise her period cycle.
She tells us she was afraid at first to tell her parents but her mother, who came from a background of being a health nurse at schools, made her more comfortable to confide in her.
“I went over a year once not having any periods. I was feeling all the pain, but not having a period”.
After founding the charity, Cysters, Neelam wanted to give women from South Asian backgrounds the confidence to discuss gynaecological health issues. She has helped remove cultural barriers in the BAME communities and tackled issues with a number of campaigns including the Cysters Smear campaign which dispels myths about cervical screenings.
“I never envisioned myself going down this route. I went down the legal route. I did my law degree and a Masters in law as well as a LPC which is my day job. I knew in the Asian community, more women have the same syndrome as me.
“Twice of the Asian women have it compared to white women and there is no real research behind it. I had a lot of issues like irregular periods, fertility problems, and I thought why is no one talking about this? Why do we keep it so hidden?”.
The Huddersfield-born student has also received abuse and threatening messages via social media since she started the campaign, where trolls would brand her a “whore” and said Asian woman should not talk about sex. Something she claims was coming mostly from Asian men.
“People were treating this health problem like it was a sexually transmitted disease, like women were sleeping around, but it wasn’t like that. I was so angry at the way women were being treated because of their health issues which has nothing to do with sex or virginity. We had a community group where I spoke more about PCOS, we heard more stories from Asian women, but the issue was everything kept linking back to this idea of ‘izzat’ (honour) when it was actually a health condition, something they can’t control.
“They think just because you mention the word ‘sex’ you’re talking about intimacy or being promiscuous.
Sex is under a big banner of reproductive health. People do treat you very differently; they don’t take the subject seriously”.
Despite these health conditions holding her legal career back she has been a recipient of a number of awards including being named as Birmingham’s 30 under 30.
Today, Neelam still tackles this problem within the Asian community and encourages women from all over to make informed decisions about any diagnosis and their sexual health.
“Our meet ups are for women who wants to rant and makes it easier for them to cope with things. We also work with local community leaders, within mosques, churches, gurdwaras etc. We wanted to provide a safe space for these women, because they are not the only one going through this. We wanted to be a sisterhood of women who actually understand each other. It just provides them another listening ear to talk about it”.
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.