Our Bodies Our Rights - speech from Christina McKelvie MSP

Today Engender was planning on hosting a Parliamentary reception to mark the anniversary of our report Our Bodies Our Rights: Identifying and removing barriers to disabled women's reproductive rights in Scotland. Given the developing situation around COVID 19 (also known as Coronavirus), and as the needs of disabled women and carers are at the heart of our work on Our Bodies Our Rights, we took the the difficult decision to cancel this event.

While we were incredibly disappointed not to be able to hold the event as planned, we're pleased to be able to share the speech which would have been given by Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People.

"Our shared goal is for all disabled women to have choice, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose, with the support  they need to do so" Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People

I am truly delighted to be here to hear and discuss the progress made since the launch of this incredibly enlightening and important report published just over a year ago.

We’re just past International Women's Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The theme for this year is #EachforEqual, recognising the ways in which individual actions can challenge stereotypes and fight bias to collectively enable wider change as we build a more gender equal world. Seems apt!

Since the publication of Our Bodies, Our Rights, the Scottish Government has taken steps and made commitments which I hope you will be pleased to hear about tonight, and which I suspect some of your in this room were involved in making come about!

When I launched the Engender report, I said that I had written to a number of my ministerial colleagues. I’m happy to report back now to tell you about work under way.

In the last Programme for Government we committed to a Women’s Health Plan. The Plan has the potential to cover a wide range of issues across a woman’s life course and the scope of the Plan was discussed by the Women’s Health Group when it met for the first time last month. I was pleased to hear that Emma Ritch is a member of the Group so will be involved first hand to champion this work.

I understand that the discussion around the table identified some emerging themes including the need for improving education and accessibility to information for women and healthcare professionals, along with improved referral pathways for specific conditions. This is an area that the Engender report highlighted.

The Group was clear that the key elements of the Plan absolutely should tackle health inequalities, which include the needs of disabled women. That is why the Group will look at the inequalities in both sex-specific conditions and general women’s health with a view to developing a Plan which will benefit all women of Scotland.

The keys to life strategy

You may know that since the launch of the report, The keys to life strategy was refreshed and now includes actions around relationships and gender based violence. The refresh calls for further action in a number of areas.

It specifically states that we need to protect the rights of people with a learning disability to become parents, and that we need to provide effective, early and on-going support to keep families together.

We have commissioned the Scottish Learning Disability Observatory to produce better data on women who become mothers, and their children who become adopted or looked after to help us improve the support we offer. We will work collaboratively with health and social care partnerships to address stigma and discrimination associated with the rights of people with a learning disability to have children.

The keys to life strategy recognises the rights of people with a learning disability to enjoy and maintain healthy relationships, including sexual relationships. It seeks to address the discrimination around the reproductive rights of women and girls with a learning disability to be given appropriate relationship, sexual health and parenting education, to be empowered around their own reproductive health and to have access to advice and services. Advice and guidance on learning disability will be included in the redraft of the sexual health framework.

Gender based violence

The keys to life strategy promotes the rights of people with a learning disability to be protected against gender based violence. The NHS Health Scotland Advisory Group has a Gender Based Violence programme which published draft guidelines for frontline staff in 2019.

The guidance will help staff identify signs that someone may be at risk of gender based violence and respond appropriately. The final guidance is due to be published shortly.

Maternal and Infant Health

Our review of maternity and neonatal services, The Best Start, recommended that all women, and in particular those women with additional clinical, social, physical and psychological needs, be met with compassion and additional tailored support during their pregnancy to improve their own health and the health of their baby. This is why a key recommendation of The Best Start is that all women receive continuity of carer from a primary midwife, supported by a small team.

Continuity of carer is important to enable all women to develop respectful and trusting relationships, with non-judgemental staff who are empathetic and knowledgeable about the woman’s individual needs. The work of the primary midwife is likely to be particularly important for women with additional complex needs.

With respect to maternal health, a strategic redesign of Ready Steady, Baby!, the pregnancy and parenting resource for all women in Scotland, was completed in early 2019. All pregnant women have access to Ready Steady Baby! and the content is also available online via the NHS Inform website. Alternative formats of Ready Steady Baby! are also available in Easy Read, audio, British Sign Language, large print and braille.

Sexual Health Service

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that sexual health and abortion services in Scotland are all-inclusive and accessible to all individuals, regardless of disability, age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. We continue to work with NHS boards on the provision and further improvement of abortion services across Scotland to ensure that they meet the needs of all individuals in a respectful way.

We are keen to understand and get an accurate picture of disabled people’s experience of sexual health services. Following the publication of the Engender report, the Scottish Government has commissioned a national audit of disability accessibility and inclusiveness in sexual health services.

The aim of this national audit is to build a picture of accessibility and inclusiveness of sexual health and blood borne virus services in Scotland. It is anticipated that the audit will identify areas of good practice and areas for improvement. These can be taken forward as quality improvement projects where common challenges and gaps are identified to improve, integrate and co-ordinate services within the Scottish public sector.


The National Parenting Strategy (2012) provided a firm foundation for supporting parents and families in Scotland and this underpins our universal and targeted services for families. We have made significant progress around commitments on extending the provision of early learning and childcare, improving antenatal and postnatal support, widening access to relationship support and developing the Parent Club website.

The Independent Care Review published its final report and conclusions last month. The Care Review highlighted that parents with learning disabilities are of a significant likelihood of having their child removed, but that research and engagement repeatedly demonstrates that parents with learning disabilities can and do become even better parents with the right support. Early, effective and family-centric support was a major theme in the Care Review. We know that it can improve family wellbeing and ultimately enable more children to remain at home safely with their families.

We are now building on the principles and actions in the National Parenting Strategy and developing plans for a cross-Government programme focussed on aligning our policies and strategies and to deliver better outcomes for children and families. This work will now be considered in the context of the Scottish Government response to the Care Review report.

Our shared goal is nothing less than for all disabled women to have choice and control, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose, with the support they need to do so.

The reason is simple. Equal rights for disabled women are about human rights. None of us can enjoy our human rights when even one of us doesn’t.

We are not standing still on this commitment.

I’d like to thank everything in this room for recognising the issue that exists and for championing change. I hope what I’ve been able to set out tonight assures you that the Scottish Government took your report seriously. We haven’t fixed all the issues highlighted but we will keep working with disabled women and their representative organisations as we undertake work in response to what we heard.

We have high ambitions for the changes we want to see and disabled women have the right to no less.

You can read the report and find out more about our work on Our Bodies Our Rights here. Many thanks to the Minister for sharing her speech with us, Monica Lennon MSP who was due to host the event, and to all who registered to attend.

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