1059. Neelam Heera
Neelam Heera, from Birmingham, is the founder of ‘Cysters’, a charity that is removing cultural barriers in BAME communities surrounding women’s health issues.
Neelam suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis from the age of 18 and realised that talking about gynaecological health issues can still be a taboo in Asian & BAME communities. She decided to tackle this and start conversations with marginalised communities so others could make informed decisions about their reproductive health. She started ‘Chai and Chat’ informal group sessions where women could discuss their experiences and find emotional support and launched a ‘Cysters Smear’ campaign which dispels myths about cervical screenings, in order to help increase the uptake of cervical smears. Neelam maintains an active online group that has over 1,000 followers and delivers workshops with faith-based groups and medical professionals. She recently spoke at the Parliamentary Launch or the British Sikh Report 2018 about the effects of reproductive illnesses on mental health.
In a personal letter to Neelam, Prime Minister Theresa 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.”
Steve McCabe, Neelam’s local MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, said:
“Congratulations to Neelam on this much deserved award for the important work she does breaking down cultural barriers around talking about gynaecological health issues. I was delighted to meet Neelam last year to discuss her charity ‘Cysters’ and it is great that her work is making such an important contribution to improving women’s health in Birmingham.”
“To be a recipient of a Points of Light Award is an honour, for which I am truly humbled and would like to thank the Prime Minister for the recognition. I founded the charity ‘Cysters’ in 2015 as a way to combat some of the misconceptions around reproductive health. I felt that issues around women’s reproductive & mental health can often be trivialised by healthcare professionals and sexualised by the BAME community due to cultural beliefs, having a detrimental impact on their health.
“What started as a social media campaign to vent these frustrations, grew into a support group for individuals with similar stories, to a registered charity working directly with the community and giving a platform for younger women to become their own health advocates through our youth board. The growth has been organic and reflective of the community needs whilst being cultural sensitive and age appropriate.
“I sincerely hope that our work educating women and the community about reproductive and mental health will help them make informed choices around their treatment options and healthcare, as well as providing a platform for women to be heard.”