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'Bubbles and Bush': Meet Eleanor, the ex-ICS volunteer tackling sexual health taboos

For 23-year-old Eleanor Calver, her ICS placement gave her the opportunity to gain more experience of working in sexual health – a sector she felt passionately about.

After returning from Zimbabwe, she’s now working for The Eve Appeal, the only UK charity to raise awareness & fund research into the five gynaecological cancers, supporting their campaign for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month.

Motivated by her feminist beliefs, dedication to improve awareness and her own experiences of sexual health education, Eleanor explains why we should all get behind the cause to get women across the UK to know their bodies better.

Sexual health is universal

“My passion for sexual health issues comes from a mix of sources but it all translates into my work at Eve now,” said Eleanor, from London.

“It’s an issue that impacts on all aspects of life, from physical and mental health to relationships and confidence. I guess it’s so universal.”

After graduating from Bath with a degree in psychology, Eleanor heard about ICS from a friend and was inspired by Progressio’s sexual health projects.

She decided to apply so she could learn something new and get experience before starting her master’s degree in sexual health at the University of Central Lancashire.

Eleanor Calver and friends
Eleanor (centre) is set to study sexual health at UCLAN later this month

Inter-generational challenges

Based in Gweru, a city in central Zimbabwe, Eleanor’s team were leading sexual and reproductive health awareness projects to challenge stigmas and break down taboos.

“It was difficult. The young people out there often had workshops at school on the topics, and trying to get them engaged was the hardest part,” said Eleanor.

“There were key things that had been missed in their education, and teenagers being teenagers, they switched off anyway.

“In a religious country like Zimbabwe, it’s hard to run sessions like that in an inter-generational way with grandparents, parents and children.

“But the young people we worked with were definitely getting more knowledgeable.

“I remember leading a session with one football group, getting them to do a condom demonstration in front of their mates. As a result it ended up with them excitedly wanting to show their friends how to do it safely. Those results are important.”

ICS taught me not to settle for ‘any old job’

Explaining that after coming back from ICS she couldn’t picture herself ‘getting any old job’, Eleanor decided to find a role with three central themes – the charity sector, a focus on women, and concentrating on gynaecological health.

So Eleanor joined The Eve Appeal. As the only UK national charity to raise awareness and fund research into the five ‘women-only’ gynaecological cancers – ovarian, womb, cervical, vaginal and vulval – it was the perfect marriage of her professional and personal interests.

She said: “It’s such a small charity, there’s only 10-11 of us including the CEO. We’re still small and we mainly fundraise for research, which is a really interesting stance for a charity.

“My role has been setting up the Ask Eve helpline, alongside being involved in a research study and now helping to see the charity through the busiest time of the year.”

ICS volunteer Eleanor with Ask Eve nurse Tracie Miles
Pictured: Eleanor (left) with Ask Eve nurse Tracie Miles

Free and confidential

Eleanor explained that the idea for a free, confidential telephone helpline came from research commissioned by the charity which found that women wanted reliable, specialist information on gynaecological cancer.

“We launched our nurse-led information hotline in May so people can call, get in touch through Facebook, and just ask whatever questions they need help with – because we know knowing the symptoms of just one of these cancers can be daunting,” she said.

“Last week, I went with Tracie, the nurse heading up Ask Eve, to a support group in Dorchester. That group said they feel completely comfortable talking about breasts and the penis but not the pelvic region.

“It really reaffirmed the urgent need to put gynaecological cancer at forefront of people’s minds.”

Tackling taboos

The charity recently launched a new campaign, Bubbles and Bush, encouraging women to organise pamper evenings where they get their friends over and organise treatments in aid of Eve’s services.

“We wanted to give it a bold title,” said Eleanor. “98% of women groom their pubic hair but can’t talk about it with the doctor. Bubbles and Bush is a great way of talking about something very serious yet something which is uncomfortable for many of us.

“It’s so easy to get involved. There’s loads of information on the website, registration form takes no time at all, and we’ll even send a supporter pack out to you with heaps of different ideas, conversation starters and games.”

Bubbles and Bush campaign graphic
'We wanted to give it a bold title', Eleanor said about the latest campaign

What’s next?

And Eleanor, who is about to move up to Manchester and begin her studies, won’t be escaping her pledge of getting involved: “I’ll definitely be hosting my own Bubbles and Bush event, and contacting feminist societies to get them involved too!”

Now hoping for a career in charity, or research and policy work after finishing her degree, Eleanor wants to be more involved with sexual education in campaigns across the UK to spread the message.

“Going on ICS has definitely given me an insight into delivering effective help. It’s showed me the realities as well as the fun parts and it’s given me the motivation to go on to a career within charity,” 

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