Photo shows East Ayrshire Women for Independence. Margaret Young at far right, and Linsey Reid holding right hand side of WFI banner.
Women for Independence National Committee member and East Ayrshire WFI activist Margaret Young led a campaign to have maternity pads included in Scotland's new Baby Box initiative, inspired by local midwife Linsey Reid. With the support of Gillian Martin MSP, we're delighted that her campaign succeeded. Read about it here.
Women for Independence are delighted that maternity towels have been included in the baby box scheme introduced by the Scottish Government. Women for Independence National Committee member Margaret Young has led a campaign for WFI to have maternity towels made freely available to all women.
When it was revealed that midwives and other health staff were buying items out their own pockets for women in maternity units, Margaret started a campaign to provide women with free maternity towels.
The revelation about what the staff were doing came to light shortly after the independence referendum. Margaret had organised a series of activities in her local WFI group in East Ayrshire on how the Tory/Lib Dem Government’s austerity policies were impacting on women. Midwife Linsey Reid gave a talk on children’s life chances and she mentioned that unless there had been a mass outbreak of amnesia, there had been a steep increase in women having “forgotten” to bring items with them. Along with forgotten items such as towels and toiletries, other women were rationing their towels or not using the maternity ones advised after giving birth.
Linsey describes the impact this has on women:
"As both a mum and practising midwife I am delighted to see the maternity towels included in the baby boxes. I see the importance of this initiative being universal as it removes the stigma to many disadvantaged women.
"By including maternity sanitary protection this should help lower readmission rates with infections as the cost often inhibits women on low incomes changing their towels regularly due to the cost involved. These boxes will be pivotal to both women and their newborns’ health as it gives them all the best possible start in life"
Unsure if there was a local issue with providing towels for mums or if it was reflected elsewhere, Margaret took the campaign national through Women for Independence. A Scotland wide survey of mums and health staff followed asking about what items were routinely provided to mums.
What emerged was that there was no overall standard of what was provided across Scotland and more anecdotal evidence was emerging of staff buying items for mums.
Margaret explains where the campaign went next:
“It was tempting at this point to simply shout about the impact of the UK Government’s policies but Women for Independence is about empowering women.
"The universality of providing items was important for dignity, not only for those women who may be traditionally seen as being in financial hardship but also for the group of women who appear on the surface to be financial secure but who are in financially abusive relationships. These women would not show up as being in need in any means tested scheme.
"Initially, the idea was to see if health boards could provide women with towels to take home with them however, as health boards decide their own priorities, this proved problematic. Even if some health boards agreed, it would be hard to bring in the same standards throughout Scotland by this method as it would be unlikely all health boards would agree to provide exactly the same items.”
Last year’s Scottish Parliament elections left the campaign in limbo but after the new government was formed and the baby box scheme was becoming a reality, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to explore whether towels could be provided in the boxes.
Gillian Martin MSP who had previously served on the Women for Independence National Committee was already supportive of the campaign. She invited Margaret through to parliament and both thought it was worth looking at whether maternity towels could be included in the baby boxes.
The Scottish Government were open to listening but did explain that items were only being included with full evidence of why they would be beneficial. Thereafter, there was a flurry of activity to provide them with the research that proved why the towels should be in the boxes.
Gillian who took the campaign into the chamber of the Scottish Parliament said:
“The baby box was an ideal opportunity to address some of the concerns highlighted by my WFI sisters on the variable provision of maternity pads. The case for sanitary protection being made available free of charge to those who need it, for me is already compelling but the maternal health issues around post partum bleeding and hygiene are very important.
"Mothers on low or no incomes will do without to ensure their babies get what they need and I felt that in looking after baby's health we had to also be very aware on how a mum's health can impact on that.
"Mark McDonald, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years had so many people asking him to consider items to go into the box, and I probably pestered him a fair bit about the inclusion of pads, including calling for them publicly in our parliament debate. I was delighted they made it in."
Margaret Young sums up what has been achieved by the positive campaigning style of Women for Independence:
“I am delighted that the campaign has been successful and will help so many women.
"We took an idea into the mainstream which was then discussed in the Scottish Parliament chamber and by the government. It shows how Women for Independence do politics differently by looking at what can be positively achieved for women.
"Most importantly, it will help to empower women by mitigating some of the hard financial and health choices they need to make. “