Controversy over HSE’s removal of word “woman” from cervical cancer information

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Digital Desk staff

Controversy erupted on Liveline this afternoon over the HSE’s decision to remove the word “woman” from information about cervical cancer to replace it with “people with a cervix.”

A caller to the RTÉ Radio One show said that the removal of the word would mean people with limited English and disadvantaged groups might struggle to find the information they needed when looking for the word “woman.”

The HSE has defended the removal of the word, with the its cervical cancer information service saying it aimed to make the programme accessible and inclusive of everyone in the population and to reduce health inequalities where possible, according to the Irish Times.

HSE communication guidelines advise the use of “gender-neutral text wherever possible” while advice was also taken from the World Health Organisation and Government documents on the use of gender neural language, the service said.

The caller to Liveline, Sarah Anderson, said the removal of the word “woman” from HSE communications online and in printed materials was “dangerous” as it meant those reading “person with a cervix” might not realise the health information applied to them.

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Ms Anderson stated she had no objection to the use of the words “trans man” or “person with a cervix” in the health information, but said the word “woman” should be included too.

Ms Anderson cited statistics from Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, a cervical cancer charity in the UK, who conducted a survey in 2017 that found over 40 per cent of women surveyed were unaware of what a cervix was and were unable to correctly identify it as the neck of the womb or uterus.

One in six surveyed could also not name a single function of the cervix, while just over 40 per cent were aware that it connects the womb to the vagina.

Ms Anderson also said that there are some countries where the word cervix does not exist.

Under changes made last December, the HSE’s webpage about the CervicalCheck screening programme refers to “anyone with a cervix” rather than “women” or a “woman”.

The HSE said CervicalCheck information material has been created in consultation with patients representatives and stakeholders.

The HSE information page on prostate cancer refers frequently to “men” but has not been updated since 2011.

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