The Health impact of Covid-19 on Women in Donegal

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The NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network Covid-19 impact survey reveals that, 61.1% of women living in Donegal feel that their mental health has been impacted by Covid-19. This percentage increased to 78% for women within the 18-25 age group and 70% for women between 26-40 years of age. While women living in the Buncrana Electoral Area had the highest percentage at 68% and 68.6% of women with a civil status of living with a partner had the highest percentage for any civil status category.

 


When asked since Covid-19 how much time have you had to look after your own mental health and wellbeing? 36.7% of Women stated that they had less time. This increased to 46% for women in the 26-40 years’ age category, 49% for women living in the Buncrana Electoral Area and 50% for women living with a partner.

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It is clear the Covid-19 pandemic has created and highlighted additional stresses for women in Donegal.  Women who took part in our impact survey talked about a number of issues and challenges they have faced since March due to the pandemic, these include;

Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress with Covid-19 restrictions re-triggering past traumatic experiences, going through pregnancy during the pandemic, dealing with ongoing health issues while trying to stay safe through the pandemic.

Some of the most common themes raised by women which directly impacted their mental health related to childcare and work. Many women talked about the additional workload and the challenge of balancing working from home and childcare, expectations.  Many highlighted even with a partner or husband in the house it still fell on them to be responsible for childcare. Homeschooling was a particular issue raised by women, who stated many had experienced an assumption by their partner that it would be them who would look after homeschooling. Which was a cause of frustration for women.

Many highlighted experiencing feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness. With constant worrying and isolation leading to sleep issues. Being away from friends and family also contributing to this. For others stress and anxiety was being brought on by worrying about the uncertainty of the future, finances and how they were going to pay bills if no work continued because of Covid-19.

While there were, additional stresses brought about from a feeling of expectation that with more free time now you should be doing stuff and being active at home all the time when in reality you’re just trying to cope with getting through the day.

A number of women who were front-line workers also expressed that their mental health was being impacted by a lack of support from their employers in relation to new workloads, personal safety and proper communication during the last few months.


This is just a snapshot of the data we received from 832 women living across Donegal. We will continue to analysis all the data and share our findings and recommendations in the Autumn.

Sexual Health Matters

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In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Eilish Mc Art, Coordinator of the Sexual Health Education Programme at the Donegal Women’s Centre in Letterkenny, talks about the education and training programme she delivers, highlighting the topic of sexual health and the importance of including and discussing sexuality + health to support our health and wellbeing.


 

Donegal Women’s Centre Providing Sexual Health Services

Donegal Women’s Centre has long been associated with health care provision and began in 1989, providing a ‘Health and Family Planning’ clinic, one of the first in Ireland, in a community setting. In more recent years a Sexual Health Project for young people began, initiated by an insightful colleague and I became the Sexual Heath Project Coordinator, this was followed up with a Young Women’s Sexual Health Clinic in Donegal Women’s Centre, which is one of only two in Ireland in the community settings, funded by HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

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Sexuality Health not just Sexual Health and why it matters

I have always felt challenged that Sexuality Health is not given more recognition by society as a primary element of Health & Wellbeing, particularly the ‘BEING.’ Other areas of health are discussed in open forums, but the mere mention of sexuality, and social response is a nod to it (and possibly a wink!). This is rooted in our attitudes and values, garnered by our generational, historical and religious systemic culture.

But, yet is sexuality not at the very core of who we are, from birth until death, how we identify to ourselves and to others, how we connect spiritually and physically. We cannot merely reduce sexuality to a discussion on contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI’s), and gender identity, although essential to holistic sexuality health provision.

 

The World Health Organisation Statement on Sexuality

‘Sexual health cannot be defined, understood or made operational without a broad consideration of sexuality, which underlies important behaviours and outcomes related to sexual health. The working definition of sexuality is:

“…a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” (WHO, 2006)

I would also include the capacity for sensuality. It is within this statement I consider my testimony to sexuality to be true, it is in sync with my beliefs, but also from years of working with the subject, agencies and people.


 

The Power Of Sexuality

I would not underestimate the power of sexuality. Sexuality transcends differences and divides of culture and politics, it is a bio/physiological condition familiar to all humans. Sexuality is not defined or confined by issues of, or consequences of being gay, gender identity, race, marginalisation by any factors such as economic class, education level, religious practice, ethnic group, migrant, traveller or settled, prisoner or free, ability or disability, or age, no, it is a behaviour common to all, it is mutual and unifying. Nor is it the domain and responsibility of the female of the population groups. The power of sexuality has had a place in history and many fabled and real political liaisons and strategy.

I recently carried out a scoping exercise for HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme titled ‘The Sexual Health Needs of Marginalised and Migrant Communities’. Women refugees who had been displaced due to war, through direct provision and in resettlement programmes in this county and women from Irish ethnic minority communities.

This was a gift that enabled me to have privileged access to work with women. I have also worked with women and men from disability sectors in programmes and training in sexuality, and throughout my career in wellbeing and sexual health, which includes people from LGBT, gender identity, those from socially, emotionally and economically marginalised, and privileged areas, they have been my tutors, and I have learned that sexuality and the issues from sexual health are common to all.

It is the glue that binds us as Humans. It is our inherent need for connection, bonding, and sensuality, the need to give love and receive love, feel and be desired, ecstasy, fulfilled, and attraction, and the gift of humanness. The soul of human sexuality is Powerful, and full of affirmative Power.


I do have to mention, negative use of sexual power, for the greater part in the setting of domestic violence. This is an area that needs to be addressed. The issue of domestic violence rightly has been given a respectful setting within the political, community, and funding sectors, but, discussion of the relevance of sexual control is a developing awareness, and programmes are being created to address this. I tried to research this issue for work, and it is limited in terms of information in this country, with one cross border community group and local support group, including this issue, and doing excellent work in their training in domestic violence.

In war, sexual violence is one of the conquering, degrading demeaning and divisive tactics used by marauding nations.  This is one of the underlying experiences that the women who participated in the scoping exercise experienced. This awareness and visioning was provided by the most eminent of project workers who provided me with a deeper awareness of the impact of the ravages of war, refugee camps, displacement and direct provision have on men and women. The ugliness of emasculation for the men and that impact for women, the war that is unspoken, struggles of need – the silent war shaped by despair.  Where can that anger and rage go? There are consequences and this impacts on sexuality and sexual behaviour for men and women.


Irish women from ethnic minorities experience hardships and vulnerability that are further exacerbated by levels of education, issues of residence, alcohol, homelessness and mental health.

One common experience for marginalised women highlighted to me in the focus sessions was the inability to relate to ‘white middle class services and leaflets on sexual health’ and the non-familiar language, women cannot identify with it. The research highlighted that a patriarchal system was evident, and was mentioned, and had an impact on women’s’ experiencing of safe sexual encounters, and attending for health care.

When we experience assault, any assault, we separate ourselves from our sexuality self, but it is an innate part of who we are and that means being separated from our soulful self. It leaves a gap, an emptiness.

I don’t wish to dwell on the negative elements of sexuality health, for to do so is sad, but I don’t apologise for including the issue, not to do so would be remiss and insulting to all the women and men I have worked with.


 

The Relationship of Sexuality with Mental Health

To discuss sexuality, we cannot neglect the fundamental component of self-esteem. Self Esteem underpins our sexual health choices, and our sexual health behaviours, and this links sexual health to mental health. Without the inclusion of self-esteem then any discussion on sexual identity, contraceptives, STIs, abortion or signposting to sexual health services is less effective.

Consent is a major issue in sexual behaviour and it is relative to self-esteem, and this is largely dependent on having experienced the 3A’s, Affirmation, Approval, and Acceptance from an early age and throughout life. I call it the AAA battery for a positive life experience. Having or acquiring healthy self-esteem, enables us to make healthy decision, and choices with partner behaviour, recognise difficulties, and act for a better way, recognise or wonderful connections, and grow with that.


 

Sexual Rights

There is a growing consensus that sexual health cannot be achieved and maintained without respect for, and protection of, certain human rights. The working definition of sexual rights given below is a contribution to the continuing dialogue on human rights related to sexual health (1).

“The fulfilment of sexual health is tied to the extent to which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in international and regional human rights documents and other consensus documents and in national laws.

  • Rights critical to the realisation of sexual health include:

  • Rights critical to the realisation of sexual health include:

  • the rights to equality and non-discrimination

  • the right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment

  • the right to privacy

  • the rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security

  • the right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage

  • the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children

  • the rights to information, as well as education

  • the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and

  • the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.

The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.

The application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitute sexual rights. Sexual rights protect all people’s rights to fulfil and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regard for the rights of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination.” (WHO, 2006a, updated 2010)

 

(1) It should be noted that this definition does not represent an official WHO position and should not be used or quoted as such. It is offered instead as a contribution to ongoing discussion about sexual health.


 

Safe Sex

The physical act of sex, is often talked about under healthy and unhealthy headings. Literature on safe sex is available, and it is important to recognise the value of promoting safe sex, the correct use of contraception, information on STI’s, crisis pregnancy supports and services. There is also safer sex, and that is about responsibility in safe sex practice, respect for self and others. It means seeking consent, using contraception as directed. It may also include using visual aids, stimulating aids, where consent is agreed and partners are the legal age to use.


 

Reduce the risk of coronavirus during sex

It is not always obvious if someone has coronavirus. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of getting the virus. There is a need to reduce this risk by following the advice below. 

  • Only be sexually active with someone you live with who does not have the virus or symptoms of the virus.

  • Avoid being sexually active with anyone outside your household.

  • Avoid kissing anyone outside of your household and anyone with symptoms. Kissing can easily pass on coronavirus.

  • Taking a break from physical and face-to face interactions is worth considering.

  • Consider using video dates. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others

  • While the current advice is not to have sex with or kiss anyone outside of your household, if you do, it is important to limit it to as few partners as possible. Remember close sexual contact with anyone you are not living with can put you and others at risk of coronavirusUse condoms and dental dams to reduce contact with saliva or faeces, especially during oral .

  • Wash before and after sex. This is more important than ever. Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.

The Donegal Women’s Centres, Sexual Health Information Project has compiled some useful advice about keeping on top of your sexual well-being now that it’s easier to get out and about and meet people. To find out more please visit here.


 

Training in enabling the normalising of sexual/ity health discussion for professionals.

I have the honour of working in partnership with a wonderful talented young woman from health promotion and improvement delivering training in Sexual Health Promotion, a national training programme funded by HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme. At the outset of the training the professionals often state that they seek confidence in discussing the subject, and indeed that is part of the design of the programme. It is often noticed that by the end of the 10 days the participants have achieved that confidence through discussion, heightened awareness of the relevance to human wellbeing, but also that taboo around the normalising of sexuality discussion has diminished and is joyful to witness.  The days are challenging and full of new consciousness of the positive value in sexuality health provision. It is emphasised to participants, nationally, to be inclusive of the affirmative element of pleasure, ecstasy and joy in sexual participation, and the benefits of self-satisfaction and connection, to the individual’s health and therefore societal health. When humans are happy, they are mostly in a healthy state of Being.

This does not direct that people have to be sexually active to achieve wellbeing, that is a choice. Rather, is it about the relationship with self to begin, an interpersonal connection, and that which achieves an ability to sense the higher self, fulfilment, it is sensuality, and knowing the components of and experiencing joy for self. Sensuality is the pleasure that we derive in being with someone, by choice, and that changes with age, ability, health, life events but the joy and pleasure remains in being a tuned with that core component of sensual pleasure.


 

The ‘Taboo’

Donegal Women’s Network invited me to contribute an article to the women’s lives, Women’s Voices series, an opportunity to address the taboo on the subject of sexuality, knowing that I am passionate about the subject, and also about putting across the relevance of Sexuality Health within general health provision, my view is, it has to be included to achieve Well-being.

I wondered how do I address ‘taboo’ part of the challenge. For me it is about making the subject acceptable, normalising the issue. How do I do that? – it concerns YOU, EVERY YOU. It matters to YOU, it is WHO YOU ARE in your world, how you choose to project yourself, and, your wellbeing.

So, in my processing world Sexuality and Sexual Health Care, cannot be separated from general health care, to do so, leaves out a core element. Sexuality Health is, will always be relevant, a priority, and core contributory factor to humans being and societal well-being. 

 

Thank you

I am grateful to all the women of the Donegal Women’s Centre who support me in doing the work of the Sexual Health Project, in schools in the community and delivering the national training, and also to HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme who fund the Project.

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Finding positivity during life’s hardest times

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How do you find positivity during a life changing event? In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Jen shares her story and journey of working through a traumatic loss, to engaging in a new personal venture and raising awareness for victims of domestic violence.

 


Here’s my story. It isn’t always a happy one but I hope you can see, as I did, that there are still glimmers of hope to be found during the darkest hours of our lives. My journey to this moment started at Christmas 2018. You see I now find my life has split into parts. Before what happened and after. Back then I had just made the decision to return home after spending a few years living and working in Spain. I had an amazing time while I was there and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet all the wonderful people and make all the fantastic memories that I did.

The reason I moved home was that my partner and I were expecting our first child and we decided that we wanted to live close to family so moving home was an easy decision. When I came back home I was around 7 months pregnant and eagerly awaiting the new arrival. Christmas came and went and I was adjusting to my life back in Ireland.


 

Everything changed on 4th January 2019. I think we often float through life thinking we are invincible and nothing shocking or devastating is ever going to affect us. It’s not an easy thing to write or for that matter read but my sister Jasmine was murdered.

Now I’m sure we have all heard about the stages of grief. Probably from the hundreds of Hollywood movies that like to portray this process over and over again. To be honest I am not sure it works in the way in which it has been made out to.

I think when something this life altering happens you never really make your way through all the so called “stages”. The shock of what had happened is something that our family will never be able to fathom and neither our community or country for that matter. But in terms of my own personal story I was in a serious state of shock and at this point 8 months pregnant.

I think that one of the main things that helped me and everyone around me during this time was the fact that I was pregnant. The fact that I had to stay calm and focus on the baby. And that’s what we did.


 

The next 6 or 7 weeks were an absolute blur. During this time one of my sister’s beautiful children came to live with me. I had never in a million years imagined that I would become a mother to a toddler all the while pregnant for the first time. My entire life had changed.

Then on the 21st of February almost 2 weeks later than he was supposed to and on the day after my sister Jasmine’s birthday, my son arrived. It was another whirlwind. I guess he was quite content not coming into the world just yet and in the end, I had to have an emergency cesarean.

So now I was really on another planet. I had gone from living an easy life teaching English in Spain to dealing with trauma and grief, becoming a mother to 2 kids and recovering from a major surgery. I don’t know how but I just kept on living my life even though I was dealing with all the stress that was constantly being thrown at myself and my family.


 

When the fog of our lives started to lift a bit, my mother and I decided that we wanted to start a social media page in order to keep people thinking about my sister and to help keep her memory alive. We started SmileForJasmine and received a huge response from the public which was amazing. We have continued with the page and have organised many events since raising funds for various charities in my sisters memory.

I realised while we were thinking of ideas and posting to the page that it made me feel good. Or distracted me at least. I needed something of my own. Something that could draw me away from thinking about everything going on in my life, something positive. So, I thought about it. What makes me happy? Simple. The kids. That little girl becoming my daughter and my son being born were two of the main things that got me through everything. Once I knew the subject I had to figure out what the actual idea was…


 

It happened like this. I woke up one morning and it was there in my mind. IrishMamaBuys. I don’t know how it got there but it’s one of those moments when you dream or wake up with a really good idea and usually you just think “Hey that’s a great thought” and then fall back asleep. But this time that wasn’t the case. I thought some more and decided that I was going to start my very own “Mum Blog” with a focus on product reviews and tips from my own experience as a mum.

On that very day, I set up my website, my Facebook and my Instagram and the rest as they say is history. I started up in August last year and it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has given me so much. The distraction as I previously mentioned is a wonderful thing to have, it’s a way of keeping my brain focused, I love the satisfaction of helping other people, the chance to talk to other like-minded women, a way of venting my feelings and a great sense of achievement.

82490384_169964374348928_7614060517031673856_oMy life will never be the same. I have had to find ways to move forward. IrishMamaBuys has been a huge part of this. I don’t know where the journey with it will lead or who I might meet along the way and that’s ok. I hope that people who are part of my little IrishMamaBuys world get something positive from it too. Maybe they get some help with something as simple as what bib to buy, perhaps they get chatting to other women about everyday challenges mums face or maybe they even get inspired to create their own blog or business.

Whatever it is I am grateful. Grateful to everyone who has helped me grow and share my little passion project. I hope you can understand now how much my “mum blog” really does mean to me.


 

If you or any one you know have been effected by domestic violence or need to seek advise you can find support with the following organisations-

 

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Big Community Clean Up

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Women around the world are increasingly becoming recognised as agents of change in supporting climate action and environmental work. Over the years, we have met many inspiring women in Donegal leading the charge in supporting environmental issues. In our latest ‘women’s lives, women’s voices’ feature, Donegal Town local Geraldine McBrearty shares with us her journey to setting up the “Big Community Clean Up” group in Donegal and talks about why it’s so important to keep trying to make an environmental difference.


 

Hi Everyone, thank you for taking the time to read this article.  In 2016, I founded a small Facebook group called “Big Community Clean Up“.  Its aim was to rally my friends and neighbours to get out for a few hours for the summer months and clean up our beautiful area as much as we could.

 

What inspired me to do this? Well it was a combination of the older generation and also my children who both always inspire me in all aspects of my life. During one of my walks to my local beach at Drumbeg, I noticed two wonderful ladies in their 60’s walking towards me. I had the pleasure of knowing these ladies many years previously whilst working in Magee of Donegal and I loved meeting them out and about.


 

To my shock, they were laden down with plastic bottles, old rope, part of an old mud flap and a discarded bicycle rim to name but a few.  They were halfway across the beach and literally could not carry another item.  They stopped to chat with me and I offered to carry what I could for them.  They informed me that they regularly picked up rubbish on the beach. What legends!!

 

I was gutted that these two amazing ladies had to go to such lengths to clean up our area. Equally worrying was the danger posed to my children from discarded rubbish and broken bottles. They would often ask “Mum, why is it so dirty here”.  It broke my heart.  I decided to organise a few close friends and neighbours to help me out on regular clean-ups.


 

It was hard work especially as high tides and storms would wash in huge amounts of rubbish onto the shore.  One such beach we cleaned, Matthews Strand, had to be tackled in an almost military manner.  We all had to line up and inch slowly along the beach picking up the endless waste that lay there.  By the end of the few hours cleaning we had made a noticeable difference, everyone was so proud of themselves. The amount of rubbish lifted was so vast that we had to call in the help of the local fishing company MOWI to help us take the rubbish to a designated lifting area for the council to remove.  Just imagine that!

I try to make outings fun, especially for the little children, so I organised on a couple of occasions for an ice cream van to pull up after the clean-up and gave an ice cream to everyone.  It was the least that they all deserved. This was very kindly paid for by the generosity of MOWI and also local councillor Noel Jordan who are always on hand to lend support to the group.


 

During the Covid-19 pandemic our main supporters, Clean Coasts, have been unable to organise clean-ups around the country due to travel and group restrictions.  However, I decided a few weeks ago to approach my group members to see if we could at least get out with our family members within the 2km area and clean as much as we could.  It worked out fantastically and a lot of rubbish along the roadside and in the ditches, was cleared up before it was covered by the growing grass of Spring.

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A socially distanced clean up

Our next mission is to get onto the beaches for a much needed clean up and to implement social distancing and some safety measures.  It’s so important to keep trying to make a difference.  The council and local litter warden are so helpful and I appreciate their regular support.  I believe that any effort at all is so worth it and will make a difference if we can all get out and make it a part of our daily lives to pick up the rubbish.


 

Our future

Maria Murphy and her grandkids out and about cleaning up the area around their home on our recent clean up.

The effort we put in today will benefit our children and relatives in the future. What really stands out for me is that there are so many people like my older friends who are out selflessly lifting other people’s rubbish.  We can join them and it makes the burden they are under a little lighter.  That is why I try and get out when I can to lift rubbish.  Thanks so much to everyone in the community who helps out.  It is very much appreciated and every little helps.  Thank you.

 

To date the group has been a great way to rally people together and to showcase the difference a clean-up makes. People can ask to join the bigcommunitycleanup group or contact their local council who will supply pickers and bags for their own clean ups. Moving forward I’d love to get the beaches cleaned up for the summer but we will have to navigate the social distancing restrictions. Even if each family clean up their own areas and beaches it would make a massive difference.

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.