catherine slater: charity worker - Work Life - Stylist Magazine

Marie  Stopes International Deputy Programme Director

Catherine Slater: charity worker

A day in the life of a women's rights charity worker

Catherine Slater, 35, is deputy programme director at charity Marie Stopes International. She lives alone in Moulton, Northamptonshire.

I live in a 16th-century cottage in a conservation area, so I wake up at 6.30am with a view of the village church from my bedroom window. My home is my sanctuary; I’ve decorated it with a mixture of Laura Ashley and pieces I buy on my travels such as a Nepalese artwork that hangs above my fireplace.

I have a cup of coffee, shower and decide what to wear – I like smart dresses from Coast and Jigsaw and I’m really into scarves. I never leave the house without make-up; I love Benefit Cosmetics so I always pick up some BADgal mascara at airport duty free.

My commute to London takes two hours door-to-door but this doesn’t bother me as I always get a seat and use the time to check emails, plus I work from home two days a week. I pick up a sandwich for lunch from Pret on my way into our offices near Warren Street.

When I arrive at 9.15am, I eat cereal at my desk while planning my day. My role is to help women in 14 of the world’s poorest countries to get access to contraception and, in doing so, reduce the number of women who have unsafe abortions – a practice that leads to the death of 47,000 women annually.

Our teams in the field offer women options such as the pill, condoms and injections through to longer-term options like the IUD (coil), implant and sterilisation. In the morning, I Skype our teams in countries such as Afghanistan, where we’re now providing IUDs to women in rural areas, so they don’t have to travel long distances to a hospital.

Work Life

“I help women in 14 of the world’s poorest countries to get access to contraception”

Much of our work is about educating people and helping overcome misconceptions. For example, in Sierra Leone many people believed an IUD could travel from the woman’s stomach to her throat, so we use drama and song to overcome this fear. We also put together a DVD where religious leaders encouraged the use of contraceptives and women talked about their own experiences, which has been really helpful in empowering women to use contraception.

Once a month, I travel to countries such as south Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria. It can be draining travelling so frequently but it’s important for me to visit the villages so I can talk through the challenges the teams face, such as a lack of doctors and midwives. On a recent trip to Nigeria, I saw 70 women who travelled overnight just to gain access to contraceptives. I spent three years living and working in Sierra Leone, which really aided my understanding of how different my life in the UK is to so many women in the developing world.

I joined one of our outreach teams and travelled to a village where I met a woman younger than me who’d had 12 live births because she had no access to contraception. It was draining for her both physically and emotionally, as six of her children had died in infancy. She opted for sterilisation – it was moving to make a positive difference in her life.

Part of my role is helping to organise a landmark international family planning summit in London on 11 July. It will be hosted by Melinda Gates [the philanthropist] and the British government, and will be the first time world leaders have come together around this vital women’s issue. Most of my peers take contraception for granted and assume that all women have the same access – but this isn’t true. The aim of the summit is to raise awareness and ensure governments let women choose if, when and how many children they have.

When I finish work at 6pm, I enjoy going out for drinks with friends to bars near work. I’m a marathon runner but my long commute doesn’t leave much time for exercise during the week, so I go running on the weekends instead. When I get home I cook a simple supper such as a jacket potato or stir-fry, then wind down by watching murder mysteries like Inspector Morse or Lewis before heading to bed at 10.30pm. Crime dramas like that appeal to me because they’re set in English villages like mine!”

londonfamilyplanningsummit.co.uk

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